SYCAMORE – The family of a girl who police believe was abused by her gymnastics instructor at Energym twice called the gym about their daughter feeling uncomfortable in class this summer, but never got a response, according to a lawsuit filed in DeKalb County court.
The family is suing Sycamore-based Energym Gymnastics Inc., its owner, Andy Morreale, and Joseph R. Hannon, the former instructor who is being held in DeKalb County jail on charges including predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. The suit alleges that Morreale and Energym were negligent in hiring Hannon as an instructor without a background check, which could have showed that he was on felony probation for an October 2013 drug charge, along with other arrests, including drug charges and a charge of resisting a peace officer.
The family filed the suit this week under a fictitious name to protect their privacy and the privacy of their daughter, who is one of two victims in incidents in which Hannon is charged. The family seeks damages in excess of $50,000 for physical and psychological injury to the 9-year-old victim as well as her parents’ mental anguish.
Hannon, 21, was first arrested Dec. 7 in connection with a Nov. 25 incident involving another child. He has been charged with criminal sexual abuse of a child and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, and could face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.
The family’s lawsuit said that the victim’s parents – referred to as John and Jane Doe – paid $210 to enroll their daughter – Joy Doe – in an eight-week “Ninja Zone” class at Energym. Hannon was one of three instructors teaching the hourlong class, according to the lawsuit.
Energym didn’t “disclose that a convicted felon on probation would be teaching the class,” according to the lawsuit.
Joy attended the class starting in June, but told her mother in mid-July that she didn’t feel comfortable going back because she didn’t like the way one of the instructors touched her during the class.
“Jane Doe did not understand the extent or nature of the touching Joy had experienced,” according to the lawsuit.
The victim’s mother later called Energym at least twice to say that her daughter didn’t feel comfortable going to the class and left messages each time requesting a return call. No one from Energym responded, according to the lawsuit.
After a call from Sycamore police on Dec. 7, the parents asked the girl about her contact with Hannon. She burst into tears and told them that he had touched her underneath her shorts and underpants. The lawsuit also alleges that Hannon fondled and groped the girl repeatedly during the class.
Hannon was charged with an additional count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a child and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child after a forensic interview. Police said recently that they have identified at least three more victims in the case. Prosecutors have said that Hannon may have inappropriately touched 25 to 30 children at Energym.
Morreale said in an email this week that Energym had not conducted a background check on Hannon when he was first hired in September 2015 or when he was hired full time in August.
The suit alleges that Energym and Morreale were negligent in hiring Hannon, who was on felony probation at the time, that they failed to properly supervise him and bear responsibility for what happened to Joy because the incidents occurred at Energym.
“As of 2016, Energym and Morreale knew or should have known that Hannon was particularly unfit to work as an instructor in close proximity to and in direct contact with children,” the lawsuit says, “due to his numerous convictions for crimes of moral turpitude and status as a convicted felon on probation.”
Douglas Tibble and Elizabeth Bacon of Naperville-based law firm Brooks, Tarulis & Tibble LLC are representing the family.
Morreale couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. Court records didn’t indicate whether he had a lawyer.