Former Bellevue High School assistant football coach Patrick Jones settled his defamation lawsuit against the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, Sea-King District 2 and KingCo Conference with the three agencies on Jan. 19.
Jones settled the suit after the three parties agreed to lift Jones’ remaining time of his four-year suspension.
“I am pleased that the WIAA, Sea-King and KingCo agreed to a settlement that confirms that I am eligible to coach,” Jones said in a statement, noting that the case still continues against the Bellevue School District. “I’m looking forward to returning to supporting student athletes in our community — it is what I am truly passionate about.”
WIAA made no payment of any kind to obtain Jones’ agreement to settle his lawsuit, according to a WIAA press release.
Jones’ lawsuit arose out of the investigation conducted in 2015 of the Bellevue High School football program’s potential WIAA rule violations. Outside investigators that WIAA engaged examined those allegations and related ones, and, in August 2015, issued an extensive report.
In response to the investigative report, the Bellevue School District conducted its own investigation and, in May 2016, reported various WIAA rules violations, including violations of WIAA Rule 23.1.1 (Rule 23), under which “[c]oaching stipends and all gifts to a coach exceeding a total of $500 in a season must be approved by the school’s board of directors.”
The school district further self-reported that it had taken internal measures to discipline two BHS football coaches, including Jones, for Rule 23 violations.
KingCo accepted the district’s self-reported rule violations and issued sanctions, which included suspending, for two years each, the two coaches involved in BSD’s self-reported Rule 23 violation. Upon appeal by BSD, KingCo modified certain sanctions, including the coaches’ suspensions, which it increased from two years to four years.
However, Jones contends that he did not violate that rule and the district’s self-reported rule violation was incorrect.
“I want to be clear that I did not violate WIAA Rule 23.1.1 and the May 23, 2016 self-report by Bellevue High School to the KingCo Conference was incorrect,” Jones’ statement continues. “The PERC ruling confirmed it is (and was) unlawful for BSD to retroactively enforce changes to compensation policies in the summer without first bargaining them. We asked what the rule meant when it came out, and we asked what we could do in the summer, and our school district told us we could be paid for coaching in the summer. It’s like a kid who gets permission from his parents to take the car out for the evening, and when he gets back, his parents ground him for taking the car out for the evening.”
Upon further appeal by BSD, District 2 clarified that the coaches’ four-year suspensions applied to coaching within KingCo. In August 2016, following the District 2 decision, BSD announced that it would decline any further appeals and accept the various BHS football sanctions, which included the coaches’ suspensions.
In the following months, Jones filed his lawsuit asking for damages and other relief purportedly arising from the investigation and sanctions process. In January 2018, after Jones had served the first two football seasons of his four-year suspension, WIAA, District 2 and KingCo jointly agreed to lift Jones’ remaining suspension.
Following that decision (which is in line with similar decisions by WIAA and its constituent districts and leagues in prior years to reconsider and reduce coaches’ sanctions), Jones dismissed his lawsuit against WIAA, District 2 and KingCo.
“We are pleased that Mr. Jones has dismissed his lawsuit,” said Mike Colbrese, WIAA’s executive director, in the press release. “We also believe that the two-year suspension Mr. Jones served was appropriate given the conduct uncovered by the WIAA investigators and the school district.”
Jones said his lawsuit now continues against the school district.
“This has been a difficult and long process for all involved, and this settlement is only the beginning of the truth finding its way out,” he added.
The resolution of his lawsuit is the latest in a series of favorable resolutions of related lawsuits against WIAA, including a suit brought by the BHS football booster club (which was dismissed by a judge at an early stage of the case in December 2016) and a suit brought by Butch Goncharoff, the other coach involved in BSD’s Rule 23 self-report (which Goncharoff voluntarily dismissed in August 2017), according to WIAA.