YOUNGSTOWN — A woman with addresses in Poland and Canfield has filed a lawsuit in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court that purports to lay out the specifics of the sexual assaults she says former Poland Township police officer Steven E. Kent committed against her.
Concetta Cougras claims she was 16 and 17 and a student at Poland Seminary High School in 2020 and 2021 when she alleges the offenses took place.
Poland Township trustees fired Kent, 52, of Starwick Drive, Canfield, from his job as township police officer and Poland school resource officer March 2, citing “immoral conduct and malfeasance.”
Kent’s discharge letter from Poland Township police Chief Greg Wilson and trustees Eric Ungaro, Joanne Wollet and Edward Kempers stated Kent was “being discharged for illegal and immoral acts with an underaged student at a school where you acted as the school resource officer.”
The lawsuit, filed Friday, names as defendants Kent, who also is an Austintown Township trustee, the Poland Township board of trustees and Poland Local Schools Board of Education.
Kent was indicted in April on three counts of sexual battery and one count of tampering with evidence related to behavior while on the job as a police officer. The indictments claim the alleged crimes took place on several dates in April, May and June of 2021. Officials have said previously the allegations against Kent involve conduct on and off duty.
The suit seeks financial compensation of at least $25,000 each from Kent, the township and the school district as compensation for “economic and non-economic damages” the victim sustained, such as medical expenses pain and suffering.
The suit provides a long list of alleged incidents Cougras claims took place beginning in December 2019 with Kent communicating with her on the social media platform Instagram and ending in June 2021 with the girl’s father contacting Poland Local Schools and Poland Township police about “Kent’s inappropriate relationship with his minor daughter.”
Poland Township trustees placed Kent on paid administrative leave from his job as a police officer in early June 2021 because of allegations that Kent had committed a felony offense on and off duty, according to archives of The Vindicator. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation was investigating at the time.
Among the allegations are that Kent and Cougras began communicating over social media, which led to more frequent conversations and Kent sending her a photo of Kent’s radio console that displayed a song with suggestive lyrics. In March 2020, a friend of Cougras saw a message from Kent, and it led to the her mother talking to Kent and demanding he and she delete each other from their Instagram accounts, the suit alleges.
When reached by telephone Monday, Kent said he had no comment about the lawsuit and its allegations.
The suit alleges Kent encouraged Cougras and Kent’s daughter to communicate with each other because they had both lost a loved one. It led to Cougras and Kent resuming their communications and starting to meet in person in Kent’s police cruiser while he was on duty as a patrol officer, the suit alleges.
Kent asked her to meet him near various Poland area businesses and a church during his 2 to 10 p.m. shifts, the suit alleges. During the summer of 2020 he groped her, it states. Kent later sent her nude photos of himself and convinced her to send him nude photos of herself, the suit alleges.
In November 2020, they met in Kent’s pickup truck in the parking lot of a Boardman business while Kent was off duty, and she noticed that Kent had a firearm in the vehicle, the suit alleges. She felt threatened by the firearm and allowed Kent to kiss and grope her, the suit alleges.
They met many more times near businesses outside of Poland over the holidays that year and into the spring, and their sexual activities progressed, the suit states.
The suit was filed by attorneys Ryan Melewski, Mark Rafidi and Christopher Sammarone of Canfield.
Ungaro said Monday when the allegations against Kent came to the trustees’ attention, Kent “was placed on unpaid leave. When BCI completed their investigation and went it to the Attorney General, we terminated him.”
When Craig Hockenberry, superintendent of Poland Local Schools, was asked about the portions of the lawsuit alleging the school district did not do enough to protect students, he said it should be pointed out the allegations predated his hiring as superintendent, which occurred in Aug. 1, 2021.
He said the Kent matter was “handled by the previous administration” and 60 percent of the school district’s administrators are new to the district.
He said the school district has had an “incredible relationship with the township police department” for 20 to 30 years, and the department provides security for board meetings and “hundreds of events,” adding, “we’ve never had an issue at all. We have a great relationship with the trustees, who we meet with regularly.”
Hockenberry said that since the day he was hired, “I never once received a single complaint from the alleged situation at all. The Board of Education has never seen a report of any kind at all, no investigation notes. We have never been involved in any of that at all because (Kent) was already placed on leave, and (the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation) and the attorney general has handled the entire situation.”
The filing of the civil suit was the first written statement about the allegation the school district received, he said.