A 28-year-old soccer coach at an Illinois high school has been accused of sexually assaulting three male students on at least 12 occasions, police say.
Cori Beard, who works at Vernon Hills High School, is accused of engaging in illegal sexual acts with the students between December 2016 and February 2018, the Vernon Hills Police Department said in a press release.
“As a community we all feel saddened we’re dealing with this investigation,” Vernon Hills Police Chief Patrick Kreis told the Chicago Daily Herald.
Police said they began investigating after a parent of one of the victims contacted a school staff member. Beard, who lives in Vernon Hills, was interviewed by police Thursday night and the investigation expanded to include two other victims, according to authorities.
She was arrested Saturday and charged with 12 counts of criminal sexual assault, police said. Beard is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, March 13. It is not clear if Beard has hired an attorney and she could not be reached for comment.
“First and foremost, our concern is for the well being of the children in this community,” Deputy Police Chief Patrick Zimmerman told Vernon Hills Patch. “We encourage anyone that has information to bring it forward to the police department, and certainly if they’re not comfortable with that we’d encourage them to reach out to a teacher, to a school staff member or you can even have an advocate bring information on your behalf to us.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Do Not Believe Any Illegal Acts Took Place at School, but Say ‘Some of the Crimes Did Occur at Beard’s Residence’
The Vernon Hills Police Department said they learned on March 8 about “possible criminal sexual conduct” involving a staff member at Vernon Hills High School and a student.
“Vernon Hills High School administrators, working cooperatively with the Police Department, took
immediate measures to prevent further contact between Beard and any students or staff. Beard was
interviewed by Vernon Hills Police Investigators on the evening of March 8, 2018, and a criminal
investigation ensued,” police said in a statement.
“Investigators learned that Beard was involved in unlawful sexual acts with three current Vernon Hills High School boys. Working in conjunction with the High School, parents of the victims, and the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office, interviews were conducted through the Lake County Children’s Advocacy Center,” police said. “It was determined these acts occurred between the period of December, 2016 and February, 2018.”
Police said they do not believe any of the illegal acts occurred on school property.
“At least some of the crimes occurred at Beard’s residence,” Vernon Hills Police Chief Patrick Kreis told the Daily Herald. He added that the victims were under the age of 17 when at least some of the alleged acts occurred.
“The Vernon Hills Police Department, District 128 and the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office
continue to work on this investigation. Police and school officials understand the significant impact of this investigation and are aware that it will affect students, parents, staff and the community. School District 128 officials have activated their Crisis Team and will make counselors available to students and staff immediately,” police said.
2. She Is Being Held on $1 Million Bail at the Lake County Jail & Faces Between 48 to 180 Years in Prison if Convicted of the Charges
Beard is being held on $1 million bail at the Lake County Jail and is scheduled to appear in court for the first time on March 13, police said.
She is facing 12 counts of criminal sexual assault and police said additional charges could still be filed.
Criminal sexual assault is a class 1 felony, according to Illinois state law. Class 1 felonies are punishable by between 4 to 15 years in prison.
Police Chief Patrick Kreis told the Chicago Tribune, “The investigation is still ongoing and fluid, and when it involves juvenile victims we deal with things in the most sensitive ways possible. If people have hesitancy to contact the police department, we encourage them to go to a teacher or counselor or some other third party. They should talk to someone. Elements of these offenses include the fact that she was in a position of trust at the school, and there are high standards that come with that trust.”
3. Beard Has Been a Part-Time Assistant Coach for the Boys & Girls Soccer Teams at Vernon Hills High School, Her Alma Mater, for the Past 4 Years
Beard has worked for Illinois school District 128 since 2013, according to police. She is currently a part-time assistant coach for the boys and girls soccer teams at Vernon Hills High School.
It is not clear if the victims were members of the soccer team.
According to the district’s website, Beard was hired in 2013 to be a special services aide at Libertyville High School. Details of what that position entailed and whether she was still in that job at the time of the incidents were not immediately available.
The school board will be addressing the issue of Beard’s employment at its March 19 meeting.
Beard, a Libertyville, Illinois, native, graduated from Vernon Hills High School in 2006 and was a star soccer player during her time at the school. She was a member of the All-Sectional, All-Area and All-Conference teams and was captain of the team her senior season.
Beard’s father, Al Beard, has been a longtime soccer coach in the district, including as an assistant for the boys team at Libertyville High School and as an assistant for the girls team at Vernon Hills, according to the Daily Herald. He also coached at several other Illinois schools and was inducted into the High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame, according to the newspaper. Cori coached alongside her father in recent seasons, according to online records.
4. She Played College Soccer at Winona State University in Minnesota & Also Coached at Conant High School
Cori Beard was a midfielder at Winona State University in Minnesota from 2007 to 2010, according to the school’s website. She graduated with a business education degree. While there, she was a member of the 1st Team NSCAA/adidas All-Central Region and was 3rd Team All-Conference, according to the team’s website.
Beard helped lead her team to one of the most successful seasons in school history, including a trip to the NCAA Regional Tournament, according to the school’s website.
After graduating from college, Beard spent two seasons coaching at Conant High School in 2011 before being hired in her hometown school district. She also spent time as a graduate assistant at Winona State.
5. The School District Says the ‘Safety & Well-Being of Our Students Is Our Top Priority’ & Police Have Asked Anyone With Information to Come Forward
In a statement Sunday, the school district said, “The safety and well-being of our students and staff is our top priority, and Community High School District 128 regrets the pain some individuals may be experiencing as a result of recent allegations made regarding the conduct of District 128 employee Cori Beard.”
The district added, “Upon learning of her possible criminal conduct involving a student, the Administration, working cooperatively with the Police Department, took measures to assure that Beard would have no further contact with students or staff. The District 128 Board of Education will take action on Beard’s dismissal at its next meeting.”
According to school officials, “District 128 Administrators are continuing to cooperate with the Vernon Hills Police regarding this investigation. The District is providing counseling services to students and staff, and encourages anyone with information regarding this investigation to contact the Vernon Hills Police Department. Anyone hesitant to bring information forward to the police is encouraged to talk to a VHHS teacher, school official or counselor. They may also have a family member, friend or advocate report information on their behalf.”
Police are also asking anyone who might have information that could assist in the investigation to come forward.
“Anyone with information regarding this investigation is encouraged to contact the Vernon Hills Police Department at 847-247-4884 or contact a teacher, counselor or other school official. They may also have a family member, friend or advocate report information on their behalf,” the police department said in a press release.
Vernon Hills Police Chief Patrick Kreis told the Daily Herald, “We don’t know about additional victims. However, we certainly want anyone with information to report that to us.”