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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Sex Assault Charges Against Coach Dropped

May 23, 2000

BREA — Prosecutors Monday dropped all charges against a Brea Junior High School basketball coach who had been accused of sexually assaulting four boys at the school.

The move came on the day that Craig Lee Coleman, 35, was scheduled for trial in Superior Court in Santa Ana.

"We have learned new information, and we felt we wouldn't be able to get a conviction from a jury," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Rebecca Heinlein.

Heinlein declined to detail the information because it involved minors. But Coleman's attorney, Stephen Klarich, said his investigator uncovered evidence that some witnesses in the case had lied to authorities.

"While we applaud the district attorney's decision, it is a shame my client had to go through months of hell," Klarich said.

Coleman, who is on unpaid leave from the Brea-Olinda School District, said he was extremely relieved.

"I feel great," he said. "It's a lot of stress out of my life because, quite obviously, this had weighed heavily on me over the last seven months. Today I'm just relaxing for the first time in a long time."

Coleman said he had not decided whether to return to work.

"I need to talk to my attorney about what my options are."

School district officials could not be reached for comment.

Coleman was charged a year ago with four felony counts of "performing lewd acts" on three 13-year-olds and a 14-year-old at the school. He has maintained his innocence.

"When you are dealing with a case like a teacher, with a public reputation, there should have been more extensive investigation," Klarich said. "We won today, but what did we really win? I just hope he can pick up and move on with his life."

A $10-million lawsuit is still pending against Coleman and the school district by one of his accusers. Douglas Honig, the attorney for the 14-year-old, said his client will press on with the suit.

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