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Ex-coach seeks change of venue

Attorneys for the former Huntington University cross country coach have filed a motion for a change of venue in his upcoming trial. The former coach, Nicholas Johnson, is facing charges of sexual battery, a Level 6 felony, and battery, a Class B misdemeanor. The charges stem from a civil lawsuit filed by two former athletes who allege Johnson sexually harassed them and injected them with an unknown substance. Johnson’s motion claims he is unable to receive a fair trial in Huntington County. “Mr. Johnson previously stood accused of offenses similar to those alleged in the instant case,” the motion, filed April 28, reads. “The disposition of this previous criminal case in Huntington County sparked public ire due to perceived leniency in the outcome. This public ire was further inflamed by the allegations made with the initial pleadings of a civil case involving Mr. Johnson.” Publicity surround Johnson’s previous cases, as well as publicity covering the current case “has been vast, prejudicial, and has cast Mr. Johnson’s character in a poor light,” the motion continued. “Due to such widespread and lasting publicity, speculative opinions as to his personality and character have surfaced in the public as well as the press,” the motion read. “As evidenced by the great number of public comments on social media posts, such publicity has indicted his character in such a manner as to taint any potential jury pool.” Johnson was fired in December 2020 after he was charged with felony counts of child seduction, kidnapping and identity deception in an incident involving a high school athlete. In that case, he was accused of contacting the family of the runner, posing as an official from the University of Oregon, to arrange a recruiting trip. However, according to police reports, Johnson and the athlete spent the weekend at motels in Portland and Eugene, Ore. Johnson pled guilty to the identity deception charge in exchange for the dropping of the other charges. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 150 days on electronic monitoring. Johnson’s wife, Lauren Johnson, was named as his replacement. She and an assistant coach, Curtis Hines, were named in the 2022 lawsuit. They were placed on leave by the university in October 2022 and, according to university officials, are no longer affiliated with the school.