NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Aaron Thomas, the former celebrated high school basketball coach accused of conducting “naked fat tests” on teen athletes for decades, was charged Thursday morning with second-degree child molestation and second-degree sexual assault.
The North Kingstown Police Department and the attorney general’s office brought the charges against Thomas, who will be arraigned on Aug. 19 in Washington County Superior Court.
Thomas, 55, has been under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office and the North Kingstown police since last year, when former athletes complained about the tests they’d undergone, some dating back more than 25 years.
Thomas is charged with second degree child molestation because one boy was under 14 years old. The authorities allege that the coach had sexual contact with the boy sometime between Sept. 1, 2000 and Feb. 22, 2002. There is no statute of limitations for this charge.
Thomas is charged with second degree sexual assault for allegedly engaging in sexual contact with another boy while “engaging in the medical treatment of the victim” for sexual arousal, gratification, or stimulation. The action occurred sometime between Sept. 1, 2019 and Feb. 22, 2020; there is a three-year statute of limitations.
The attorney general’s office and North Kingstown police said in a statement that they conducted interviews with more than 30 former students who attended North Kingstown High School from the early 1990s through 2020, as well as teachers, coaches, administrators, and medical professionals.
Detective Christopher Mulligan, Assistant Attorney General Timothy Healy, and Special Assistant Attorney General Meagan Thomson are leading the prosecution and investigation of the case.
Thomas’ criminal lawyer, John MacDonald, said that the former coach “adamantly denies that any criminal activity took place.”
“The sole purpose of the testing program was to better the athletic performance of North Kingstown High School’s student-athletes. Hundreds of student-athletes participated in this program over the course of many years and greatly benefited from it,” MacDonald said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Mr. Thomas looks forward to his day in court and the opportunity to clear his name.”
The school district is under investigation by federal civil rights attorneys, and lawyer Timothy J. Conlon has filed civil lawsuits on behalf of former student-athletes and their parents.
Conlon is representing both victims in the criminal case and said they have cooperated with law enforcement. The victims declined comment. “We appreciate the attorney general’s office taking the time to sift through something that involves so many years and witnesses,” Conlon said Thursday morning.
Reports by independent investigators for the Town Council and the School Committee found that Thomas had built a winning basketball program, ran the summer sports camps without supervision for 20 years, and was part of the school’s sports culture that gave him a “free pass” to do whatever he wanted.
The former students going back to the mid-1990s said that Thomas’ testing began with the same question: “Are you shy or not shy?” Those who were “not shy” were expected to strip naked before Thomas, alone in either a closet or a small room attached to his office, and allow him to conduct his “fat tests.”
Some said he used skin-fold calipers to explore their groin and buttocks, and had them do stretches and “duck walks” while nude. One said he was just 13 years old at the time.
One told The Boston Globe Thomas used his bare hands to perform a “hernia check.” A report by retired Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl said Thomas referred to the touching as “puberty” checks.
While Thomas distributed “weight testing” permission forms for students and parents to sign, the forms didn’t say anything about the students being naked. His lawyer told the Globe that Thomas found it easier to do the tests if the boys were nude.
Dr. Christopher Duggan, a pediatric gastroenterologist and nutrition physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School, told the Globe that there’s no reason for people to be unclothed during these types of tests.
The School Committee voted to terminate Thomas’ job in February 2021. He was hired by Monsignor Clarke School in South Kingstown last fall, but the school fired him when the allegations became public.
This article has been updated with additional information from the attorney general’s office, lawyers, and court documents.