By Joey Horan

Patrick Hickey, a prominent educator in Northwest Ohio, was arraigned yesterday in Adrian, Michigan, on three counts of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree for sexually abusing a teenage girl while teaching and coaching at Addison Community Schools in Lenawee County, Michigan, some 30 years ago.

Hickey’s arraignment is the latest and perhaps final turn in a saga that has divided the Washington Local School District in Toledo, Ohio, since 2015, when Hickey resigned as superintendent of the district before the board of education could consider charges to fire him. Despite the swirl of allegations that resulted in his arrest this week, Hickey was elected to that very board last November.

Earlier that day, Doug Jones had been sworn in to the U.S. Senate after defeating accused child molester Roy Moore. Patrick Hickey also took his oath of office that day, but Hickey, of course, is not the Doug Jones of this story.

Belt Magazine has been following the story since the election, including the first school board meeting of Hickey’s term as a duly elected member.

On that bone-cold night of January 3, cars lined the neighborhood streets surrounding the old Lincolnshire Elementary School turned school district headquarters turned public square.

Inside the old gymnasium, a woman in her mid-40s — short, strong, and with a confident gait — approached the public comment microphone. She stood at the head of a well-worn path dividing the standing-room-only crowd of both Hickey supporters and anti-Hickey activists; the back of her sweatshirt reading, “we>me.”  

Before her sat the leaders of the Washington Local School District: superintendent, assistant superintendent, treasurer, four school board members, and one empty chair bearing Patrick Hickey’s name.

And as the gavel struck and the crowd pledged allegiance to the flag, Hickey sat just off of school property in an idled black Ford sedan, having permanently been banned from school district property for an incident in 2016. The meeting went on without him.

Earlier that day, Doug Jones had been sworn in to the U.S. Senate after defeating accused child molester Roy Moore. Hickey also took his oath of office that day, but Hickey, of course, is not the Doug Jones of this story.

In the Fall of 2015, rumors first began to circulate about then-Superintendent Hickey’s history of sexually abusing students while he was working in Michigan in the late ’80s into 1990.

Back inside the gym, beneath the blue and gold banners broadcasting the 12 core values of Washington Local Schools that were implemented by Hickey — dignity, honesty, respect, and trust, among them — the speaker introduced herself per public comment protocol.

“My name is Kristina — I go by Kris — Hassenzahl. And I’m one of those former students from Addison,” she said. “I’m the face of the destruction, not two years ago that you guys are dealing with, but almost 30 years ago. I was a 14-year-old student. He was my coach, he was my English teacher, he was my mentor. He groomed me sexually. I watched him victimize two of my players.”

To be clear, Hassenzahl later told me her experience with Hickey never went beyond “grooming,” but she still carries the trauma and guilt of being preyed upon and watching her other teammates abused. And if she speaks like she’s still the captain of Addison High School’s basketball team, it’s because Hickey’s tenure there is seared into the collective memory of the small Michigan community where, as one resident said, “If you had tacos for dinner, people would know about it.”

Indeed, the three speakers before Hassenzahl — also from Addison — recalled Hickey’s departure from Addison Community Schools on November 5, 1990, with extreme clarity.

Jim Driskill, current trustee for Addison Community Schools, told the board he was working across the hall from Hickey, “27 years and 59 days ago,” when Hickey was called to the principal’s office. “I must admit, I was fooled like everyone else at that point in time.”

Hickey left Addison, Driskill said, “not due to the relocation of his wife as it says on his application for employment here. He left because he was told, ‘either leave, or you will be prosecuted.’”

Ken Mullin, former athletic director at Addison High School, was also fooled. He told the board he was worried for Hickey’s “mental well-being” after his forced resignation. He went to check on the exiting teacher as he packed up his classroom, and according to Mullin, Hickey told him privately in the hallway, “I want you to know it wasn’t all my fault.”

Brooke Kelly, the third Addison native to approach the mic, was a lot less ambiguous about the circumstances leading up to Hickey’s coerced resignation. Kelly, like Hassenzahl, was a student and basketball player at Addison High when Hickey was the basketball coach and English teacher. She now lives in Georgia and made the trip to Toledo to address the board.

While many Hickey supporters employ typical victim-shaming rhetoric, they also exercise the dig-in-your-heels logic of contemporary American politics. State police investigations, thorough journalism, and survivor testimony do not hold a candle to the beaming light of the chosen candidate.

Kelly shared a story from the fall of 1990, one that she has told to multiple news outlets, a Michigan State Police detective, and a private investigator. After a home basketball game, Kelly and her mother followed Hickey and another Addison player to a cemetery on North Adams Road in rural Lenawee County. Kelly told the board that she and her mother watched Hickey and the teenage player get into the same vehicle, and “very shortly thereafter the vehicle starts bouncing.”

To Kelly’s knowledge, this was the second student that Hickey “[had] done inappropriate things with.”

Kelly remembered trying to process the situation as a teenager. She pled with her mother not to say anything, having quickly calculated the social consequences she would face at school for defaming the young, popular, and charismatic Hickey. But her mother did not listen. She reported the incident to the school, and “I believe it was five days after,” Kelly told the board, “Patrick Hickey was gone and no longer a threat to any more students.”

Yet, more than 27 years later, Hickey was still involved in education. After leaving Addison in 1990 under the threat of prosecution, he made a successful career for himself in Northwest Ohio, becoming superintendent of Washington Local Schools in 2007, a position he held until 2015 when he resigned amid multiple investigations. And despite all of the despites, Hickey continued to serve as an elected board member up until this week, when he was charged by the Michigan State Police.


Shortly after his resignation in December of 2015, Hickey was permanently banned from all Washington Local property for conduct at one of his son’s basketball games. Not only was he removed from the game three times for verbally assaulting referees, he was also seen attempting to hug the interim superintendent, who, according to an account shared at a school board meeting in February of 2016 by then President David Hunter, would not reciprocate.

The meeting minutes contain Hunter’s description of the scene. “When she did not reciprocate the hug, [Hickey] became agitated and began saying, ‘Are you afraid you’ll get in trouble?’… Mrs. Mourlam [the interim superintendent] tried to move away from Patrick and he would not let her go. He said, ‘Are you trying to get away from me?’”

Hickey is expert at Trumpian strategies, forging himself in the molds of champion of the people, enemy of the establishment, and victim of the press.

“His arms were wrapped around her in a hug; she had her arms down at her sides,” Hunter said.

More than two years worth of foreshadowing are held in that assaultive embrace; as WLS leadership and anti-Hickey activists pushed Hickey away, Hickey pulled himself closer.

Like many of the men unmasked by the #MeToo movement, Hickey is pathologically drawn to bear-hugging individuals, families, and communities when their arms are down. He’s claimed time and again that the unwanted contact really is a hug, an enduring demonstration of care and love, but he also taunts those who don’t return it. Finally, as a last resort, he says, it’s okay if you don’t love me, give me time and I will “earn your trust.”

And like any immune response, the process of addressing such a person takes a considerable toll on the individual and the community, one that Washington Local and Addison are still very much dealing with.

That energy suck has been pulling on Kristina Hassenzahl for 30 years. She buried what happened in Addison until 2016, when a private detective contacted her about Hickey. That’s when she started to unpack things. “I didn’t know this affected me like it did,” she later told me over the phone. Subconsciously, she had been keeping track of Hickey the whole time. “He’s rented space in my head without me even knowing it for the past 30 years.”

Hassenzahl spoke to the damage beyond a fractured district, and her warning to the board in Toledo was clear on that cold January night: Unless “you want to see faces like this of your own community’s children, that seat should stay empty.”

As her three minutes ran out at the mic, Hassenzahl yelled over cheers from her many supporters, “I’m done sweeping it under. I’m done! I’m asking you for there to be no more Addison. No more Addison!”

But while one half of the room stood to applaud Hassenzahl, the other half sat resolute.

Jackie Semelka, a staunch Hickey supporter, is chief among the latter half. “I judge him on what I’ve seen,” she told me during a break for executive session, and she said she’s seen a lot, with more than a dozen grandchildren passing through the district. “I’ve never heard a bad word about him.”

“None of these people came forward until he was running for the board. This all started as a Facebook witch hunt.”

When I asked her about the words that had just been spoken at the public comment microphone, she said she senses nothing but agendas and hysteria. “None of these people came forward until he was running for the board,” she argued. “This all started as a Facebook witch hunt.”

She extended the same suspicion to the 2016 Michigan State Police Report, published by the Toledo Blade days before the 2017 election. The report details a sexual relationship between Hickey and one of his female students, which started when the student was 14 years old and continued throughout her high school career. Semelka said she doesn’t trust the victim’s testimony because of the detective’s procedure: He conducted the interviews over the telephone.

While many Hickey supporters employ typical victim-shaming rhetoric, they also exercise the dig-in-your-heels logic of contemporary American politics. State police investigations, thorough journalism, and survivor testimony do not hold a candle to the beaming light of the chosen candidate. And Hickey is expert at Trumpian strategies, forging himself in the molds of champion of the people, enemy of the establishment, and victim of the press.

To the last point, a retweet from Hickey, whose Twitter handle remained @SuptHickey until he recently deactivated all of his social media accounts, clarified his relationship to the media.

In a Facebook Live video broadcasted on Election Day, Hickey talked about the many trials he had faced in running his campaign. “I was scared coming here,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, with the negative publicity, and the agendas, and the lies, and the vitriol.”

In a different Facebook Live video that documented Hickey’s oath of office — conducted in a local library by his former assistant, a notary public — Hickey appeared as champion of the people.

“We need to listen to the 3,300 voters and not hysteria, and not unfounded allegations, and we need to let the people speak,” he said, inflating his actual vote total by 234 votes.

As for the allegations made against him, those were old and unfounded: “Those of you who have read the news of 1990 in Addison, an allegation there, 30 years ago, also resulted in no charges. I’m 54 years old. I’ve never been charged with a crime.”

Hickey provided additional cover to his base by alternately citing his ardent Christian faith and healthy marriage as proof of his innocence.

Of course, Hickey’s “Access Hollywood” tapes were all out there. One such tape, a clip of audio recorded by a WLS staff member who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, showed Hickey privately displaying a prove-it attitude concerning the Addison allegations. The recording, later posted to an anti-Hickey Facebook page, WLS Predator Watchdog, which has since been taken down, captured a 2015 phone conversation in which Hickey said to someone on the other line, “You could bring 20 witnesses that say that I fucked students. Go ahead! Unless you have someone who says, ‘I was fucked,’ you have nothing.”

Such brazen denial could only be matched by a 2017 campaign video, released amid the swirl of allegations. In the video, a half-dozen teenage girls (Hickey’s daughter among them) appear beside neon green “Vote Hickey for Kids” yard signs. They say, “As for me and my family, we know Mr. Hickey, and we’re voting Hickey for kids!”

For more than 3,000 voters, the messaging worked.

“He cares about the kids in this district,” Semelka said. “It’s his first thought.”


Hickey’s 2015 resignation came in the face of 37 charges compiled by the school board hired law firm, Bricker and Eckler. Charges ranged from “inappropriate emotional and/or sexual relationship[s] with one or more subordinate teachers” to “unwelcome contact and/or intimidation of a female teacher” to the public proclamation that he would “periscope” courses taught by that teacher.

These charges came on the heels of a separate investigation that looked into an informal complaint filed in the spring of 2015 by the aforementioned teacher.

According to documents obtained by the Blade, the teacher who filed the complaint had recently broken off what appeared to be an affair with then-Superintendent Hickey and had made repeated requests that he no longer contact her. Those requests were ignored by Hickey, who at one point, per the teacher’s written timeline of events, “came into my classroom and asked what was going on and why I was doing this (I had a class at the time).”

“We started out with Hickey,” two students told me, sitting among more than a dozen of their peers in the pro-Hickey section.

In a mock school board election held at Whitmer High School — the only high school in the district — they said Hickey won by a landslide. Many would want him to speak at their graduation, too.

The woman’s husband, also a teacher in the district, intervened. Knowing Hickey’s very public devotion to Christianity, the couple consulted their pastor and “asked him to speak with Patrick’s pastor.”

It didn’t work. A day after the pastor spoke to Hickey, he relayed a threat to the teacher through her co-worker. “If I ‘went public’ with any information,” the teacher wrote in the timeline, “he was going to pay to have messages recovered from his phone, of our correspondence, in order to make me look bad.”

Roughly two weeks after the attempted spiritual intervention, Superintendent Hickey sent a package of returned gifts to the husband’s work mailbox, which included a vial of Hickey’s DNA that “was extracted during an experiment at the Junior High with a group of 8th grade girls (that included his daughter).” In an email to the teacher’s husband, Hickey wrote that he sent the package “so you would know that she was just as responsible as I was for the friendship we had.”

Scattered throughout these details were moments where Hickey apologized, rescinded threats, and promised to leave the couple “110% alone.” Then, he appeared again, running by their house, a 17-mile route he claimed to have run before. The husband videotaped him doing so, to which Hickey later wrote in an email, “You videotaping me running on public sidewalks is harassment and I would ask that you not do it again. I am leaving you alone but what you did today is certainly not leaving me alone.”

In mid-September of 2015, after a two-week investigation of these complaints, Hickey received a hand delivered reprimand from the board for “Conduct Unbecoming a Superintendent.”

Hickey assured the public that the cause of the reprimand was nothing sexual, romantic, financial, or student-related.

The light punishment came as a relief to many Hickey supporters in the district who had heard rumors that the board was considering more severe action. As 13abc reported, “In what looked like a receiving line after a wedding, Hickey thanked his supporters with hugs.”

One student told the news station, “I love him. He’s like a father figure for everybody.”

Three months later, Hickey would resign as allegations of sexual abuse from Addison bubbled back to the surface.

Yet, more than two years later, Hickey continued to enjoy support from a large contingent of students. At the final board meeting of 2017 — in which outgoing board members shot down a measure that would temporarily lift the Hickey ban and allow him to participate in board meetings on district property — a large group of students expressed their support for Hickey.

“We started out with Hickey,” two students told me, sitting among more than a dozen of their peers in the pro-Hickey section.

In a mock school board election held at Whitmer High School — the only high school in the district — they said Hickey won by a landslide. Many would want him to speak at their graduation, too.

Continued support for Hickey defies the oft-quoted logic of “when someone shows you who they are, believe them.” In today’s context, that refrain is more plea than truism, and it ultimately fails to counterbalance the selective seeing and emotional connections that are so central to political support.

In other words, charisma and boldly stated lies go a long way.

Hickey is described by both detractors and supporters as charming, charismatic, and energetic. “He was very good at being a public face,” said Tina Wagner, an anti-Hickey WLS parent. “He would show up and do the ‘hello’ thing.”

Cindy Perry, former president of the local public school employee union, OAPSE, and a vocal anti-Hickey activist referred to him as the district “cheerleader.”

Hickey’s campaign video featured him in all manner of celebration: singing, clapping, cheering, hugging, standing on tables, all the while surrounded by gleeful students of all ages.

He also paid special mind to children with special needs and was frequently photographed doing so, a fact not lost on his detractors. One of Hickey’s disputed school expenses centers around a skydiving trip Hickey and other staff made with a former WLS student with special needs. Washington Local produced a documentary on the experience called, “Falling as Equals: The Journey to Find Courage.”

Meanwhile, Hickey’s successor, Superintendent Dr. Susan Hayward, is an expert in literacy. “She does things quietly,” one of her supporters said. But for those who grew attached to a skydiving superintendent, a well-qualified and reserved woman does not cut it.

And on January 18, inside the Conn-Weissenberger, Post 587, a local American Legion outfit where the board would hold meetings to accommodate the Hickey ban, Hickey sat one seat down from Superintendent Hayward, her contract extension hanging in the balance. Hayward remained composed as Hickey and two other board members abstained from the vote, dooming her extension. The crowd moaned. It appeared the coup was underway.

One week later, however, it was reported that the Michigan State Police reopened its investigation into Hickey’s alleged crimes in Addison. In reaction to the news, the school board held a special meeting (Hickey and one other board member were not present), in which the three present members passed a resolution calling on Hickey to resign.


In February, March, and April of 2016, Detective Sergeant Larry D. Rothman of the Michigan State Police filed reports detailing his investigation of Hickey. Because the case was previously closed, the Blade was able to obtain and publish the records in 2017 leading up to Hickey’s election (another instance of unfair media coverage, Hickey argued).

The “Original Incident Report” filed on February 12, 2016, contains a summary of Detective Rothman’s conversations with a victim from Addison.

The woman confirmed allegations that a “sexual relationship” started with Hickey when she was 14 years old and a basketball player on Hickey’s team, and it “continued until she graduated from Addison High School.”

The woman, however, did not want to move forward with charges, citing, among other things, concerns for her children’s safety. Per Rothman’s report, “she did say however if there were other victims then she would gladly come forward and pursue the issue.”

Also within the report is a message Hickey sent to the alleged victim in anticipation of a different investigation, one carried out by Chris Gill, a Toledo-based private investigator, in 2015 and 2016. The semi-redacted transcript from Detective Rothman’s report matches the following text that was posted to the WLS Predator Watchdog Facebook page.

Gill’s investigation, and by proxy, the investigation by Michigan State Police, would bring into the fold a 2008 investigation conducted by Jonathan Walsh, then an investigative reporter at WTOL. Walsh confirmed with Belt Magazine that the statement below, also posted to the WLS Predator Watchdog Facebook page, was the statement he gave to Gill.

In that statement, Walsh writes:

Despite numerous references to a second victim — and Brooke Kelly’s testimony, which is about a potential second victim — neither Walsh, Gill, nor Detective Rothman, per the documents currently available, were able to get confirmation from her regarding any abusive behavior by Hickey.

This fact doomed Walsh’s reporting, which, it should be noted, occurred very early in Hickey’s tenure as superintendent.

In an email to Belt Magazine, Walsh wrote:

“The reason WTOL did not air [the story] was because the general manager and the news director said it was Hickey’s word against the victim’s. They didn’t want to open the station up to any hint of liability. I will tell you that I had plenty more than just a he-said, she-said investigation, but they still decided to quash my report.”

Similarly, the Lenawee County Prosecutor’s Office declined to charge Hickey in 2016, citing the victim’s “no authorization” request and an expired statute of limitations.

But that was then, and this is now.

As Hickey continued to insert himself in the public eye, metabolizing scandal at a Trumpian rate, the legal and cultural landscape shifted beneath him.

The reopening of the Hickey investigation was first reported the day after Larry Nassar’s January 24 sentencing in an Ingham County courtroom just 50 miles north of Addison. The sentencing followed 156 victim impact statements made by women and girls in a case that embodied so much of the #MeToo movement: serial abuse and institutional cover up; silenced, ignored, and discredited women; and the resiliency and bravery of survivors telling their stories and demanding justice.

As Hickey continued to insert himself in the public eye, metabolizing scandal at a Trumpian rate, the legal and cultural landscape shifted beneath him.

Those voices quickly reached the halls of power in Michigan, where politicians and prosecutors now scramble to write the wrongs of history. The Michigan State Senate recently passed a bill extending the statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct in the third degree — Hickey’s current charges — to “within 30 years after the offense was committed or by the alleged victim’s 48th birthday, whichever [is] later.”

If the Michigan House passes the same bill, the new statute of limitations would apply to Hickey. But that’s not the law on the books right now, which means local prosecutors are working another angle.

That angle can be found in subsection 10 of 767.24 in Michigan’s Code of Criminal Procedure, in which the clock stops ticking on the statute of limitations when “the party charged did not usually and publicly reside within this state.” In other words, as soon as Hickey left Michigan — shortly after Addison community members chased him out — the door was propped open for his later prosecution.

This detail is important beyond its legal consequences. It shows the ability of public pressure, media attention, and mass social movements to influence prosecutorial discretion and drive legislative change. It also shows the inertness of elected officials who, with all the tools at their disposal, favor the faux-glory of reacting to the controversy of the day instead of the harder-to-quantify work of preventing crisis.  

Indeed, the same law governing Hickey’s statute of limitations today existed in 2016 when Lenawee County declined to prosecute. But that was before Larry Nassar had gone to trial and before the #MeToo movement had captivated the nation.

And so it goes. While there was always a way to stop Hickey, there was never a will. Until Addison and Washington Local united.


The Addison basketball team is still at the center of all this, and they now have more than the public comment microphone on their side.

When I first talked to Kris Hassenzahl about the reopened investigation, she spoke of a unified group with a purpose. “We have the truth on our side, we’ve finally found our voices,” she said. “We definitely have carried this burden for 30 years when it wasn’t ours to carry.”

Now that Hickey’s been charged, she’s taking a measured and cautious approach. “It’s too soon to rejoice,” she said. “It’s been 30 years, and he’s only been charged.”

Still, Hassenzahl is proud of one thing. “He wanted people to know his name. Well, I’m making that happen for him.”

And on January 18, Hassenzahl stepped to the mic to face her old coach and unload that burden onto him.

In her opening words, Hassenzahl closed a 27-year gap. She reminded Hickey of the last time they saw each other. “You were at my graduation open house. You bought me a fifth of Tia Maria, and we did a shot,” she said, as Hickey stared into his laptop to avoid looking at any of his detractors. “I have a picture of it. See predators don’t always come from the shadows, but they come from where they earn trust.”

Addison was one such place, “a tiny community with a flashing light and a party store surrounded by corn fields,” Hassenzahl told me. A place where “this type of thing just didn’t happen.”

Trust is fundamental in small town life where there is no disappearing into the background. And Hassenzahl felt like her hometown failed her by sweeping the Hickey incident under the rug.

Trust is fundamental in small town life where there is no disappearing into the background. And Hassenzahl felt like her hometown failed her by sweeping the Hickey incident under the rug. “I want to believe people kept quiet because they felt like they were protecting the community,” she told me. Instead, the foundation of the community fractured. “He rocked our community to the core,” she said.  “We’ve just started sealing the cracks that 30 years of secrets have done.”

Back at the Conn-Weissenberger, Hassenzahl again addressed Hickey. “Do I need to remind you of the inappropriate comments? The grooming that you used to do? ‘The things you could teach me that my 14-year-old boyfriend couldn’t?’”

“You were supposed to be our coach,” Hassenzahl said. “Someone that protected us, educated us, and a mentor. Instead, you used our community as your own personal playground. And when things got tough, you ran, like a coward. Well, it’s time that I’m gonna give you the guilt and the shame that I carried for 30 years.”

Hassenzahl remembers that guilt at team dinners at Hickey’s house, when Sue, his then girlfriend, now wife, would cook for the team, oblivious to what was happening after practices and games in the weightroom or at the cemetery. She remembers the excessively touchy practices — lessons in “good defense,” as Hickey would say — and Hickey’s presence in the girls’ dorms at sleepaway basketball camps, a detail later corroborated by a teammate, Heather Sanchez, who told the board, “I saw people disappear at camp. That’s what I saw. And I didn’t know where my coach was.”

At the close of the January 18 meeting, Hickey would disappear again. He took interviews for local television crews, but once the cameras were off he slid through a crack between two tables to avoid a phalanx of opponents waiting for him. He was then escorted to his car by two police officers.

“You’re a coward,” Hassenzahl called after him. “You’re a coward.”

This would be the first, last, and only regular board meeting attended by Patrick Hickey. He skipped February’s meeting for his daughter’s basketball game and was disposed of his duties at yesterday’s meeting when the remaining board members accepted his letter of resignation.  

With Hickey’s chair once again empty — and no nameplate before it — the March 21 meeting was relatively quiet. Board members and residents talked about “relief,” “moving forward,” and “re-focusing.” Hickey’s name was conspicuously absent from the public comment period that lasted but one speaker, and superintendent Dr. Hayward’s contract was extended with a unanimous vote.

While Washington Local appears to be on its way to healing, Kris Hassenzahl looks forward to her day in court. “I won’t believe it’s over until he’s sitting in a courtroom in front of me,” she said.


Banner photo: Patrick Hickey’s mugshot after turning himself in to Lenawee County Sheriff’s Department.

Joey Horan is a writer based in Toledo, Ohio. He can be reached at

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