A former Berks County Special Olympics soccer coach has been charged with sexually assaulting a player with intellectual disabilities. 28-year-old Michael A. Sheldon was charged on March 19 with rape, involuntary deviate sexual assault, and related charges. He appeared in court for a preliminary hearing on Thursday and was held for court on all counts.
Sheldon is accused of assaulting a 24-year-old male soccer player at Sheldon’s apartment on July 15, 2018. Investigators say that the victim has autism, bipolar depression, ADHD, and is intellectually disabled.
Sheldon allegedly asked the victim if he wanted to have sexual contact while the two were at his apartment and the victim said no. According to investigators, the victim then went to Sheldon’s bedroom to go to sleep at about 11 p.m. While he was sleeping, Sheldon allegedly climbed into the bed and touched him inappropriately. The victim told Sheldon no again, but Sheldon continued and performed a sex act.
The victim fell asleep after the alleged assault. Sheldon drove him to a program for mentally challenged individuals the next morning, where the victim told counselors about the alleged assault. Staff then contacted the police about what they’d been told.
Investigators say that Sheldon admitted to kissing the victim but denied any sexual contact. Police also recovered several text messages that Sheldon had sent the victim. One of them read: “OK you made your choice I will be letting everyone know what you did. You won’t be welcomed at Special Olympics anymore, I’ll make sure the coaches know. Good luck with everything. I’ll be throwing your meds away.”
Sheldon was suspended from his coaching position in July when the Special Olympics organization says they were made aware of the allegations.
Sheldon also worked as a special education assistant in the Reading School District from late August 2018 until he was arrested in March 2019.
Attorney contributor Brian Kent is a former sex crimes prosecutor who currently represents victims of sexual abuse in civil school sex abuse lawsuit. Here are some general thoughts from Brian on the legal rights of vulnerable adults who have been sexually assaulted by people in positions of trust:
It’s crucial that individuals who work with the intellectually disabled can be trusted. Sadly, sexual predators are often found in fields that involve working with vulnerable adults. In the Special Olympics and other similar programs, all potential new employees and volunteers should be properly vetted to make sure they have no history of sexual misconduct.
When someone with an intellectual disability is sexually abused by a person in a position of trust, it’s important to determine if that abuse could have been prevented. For example, was the perpetrator someone with a history of sexual misconduct who should have never been hired? In cases of negligence, such as a failure to run a background check, the victim and their family may have grounds for a lawsuit.
These cases are complicated and determining your family’s legal options will likely require legal guidance. You can learn more about your family’s legal options by contacting an experienced sexual assault survivors attorney.