13 victims sue former Johnson County high school teacher who filmed girls changing

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A sixth lawsuit has been filed against a former Johnson County teacher and choir director who pleaded guilty of sexually exploiting students at the Catholic school where he worked for more than two decades.

On Friday, 13 victims and their parents filed a joint lawsuit against Joseph Heidesch, 47, who in December pleaded guilty to secretly filming students changing at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, which was also named as a defendant.

In June, a Johnson County District Court judge sentenced Heidesch to five years and eight months in prison after Heidesch pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation and 25 counts of breaching privacy.

Between 2016 and October 2021 — when Heidesch was arrested and charged — he recorded and saved hundreds of videos that showed at least 25 victims either getting undressed, or in some cases, nude, court documents show.

The suit accuses Heidesch, who worked at the school for 22 years, of “a continuing and pervasive scheme for the purpose of his own sexual arousal and gratification as a child sexual predator.”

Heidesch is currently being held at Winfield Correctional Facility in south-central Kansas.

Neither the school nor attorneys for the plaintiffs or defendants could immediately be reached for comment Monday.

The latest lawsuit

The victims listed in Friday’s lawsuit span Johnson and Leavenworth counties in Kansas and Jackson County, Missouri. All are female. All were minors at the time of the crime, and all were members of the school choir when it was under Heidesch’s direction.

The victims and their parents in the lawsuit said Heidesch, as an educator, was trusted to provide “a safe educational environment.”

Instead, Heidesch required all students to change into choir robes in his private office as part of his choir class. Unbeknownst to the students, he also installed a video camera in his office where he recorded students undressing “for his own sexual arousal and gratification,” according to Friday’s lawsuit.

All 13 students in Friday’s lawsuit were recorded on various occasions without their consent, according to the suit. Heidesch then saved and sorted the recordings into files labeled with each students’ name on a hard drive. It’s not known if Heidesch uploaded the sexually explicit videos to the internet.

The lawsuit goes on to accuse the school of failing to stop Heidesch from contacting students on their personal phones or from changing in his private office, which are known signs of grooming by child sexual predators.

In all, the suit accuses the teacher and school of negligence, negligent failure to train and supervise, invasion of privacy, outrageous conduct causing severe emotional distress, agency liability, breach of fiduciary duty, premises liability, unjust enrichment and violation of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act.

“Heidesch’s conduct as a trusted teacher and choir director toward minor students was so extreme and outrageous in character that it goes beyond the bounds of decency,” the suit reads.

Multiple lawsuits filed against Heidesch and St. Thomas Aquinas High School are still pending in Johnson County District Court.

Other victims who previously came forward to accuse Heidesch in lawsuits alleged he made of girls change their clothes in his office under the guise of trying on new sizes, even when they said they didn’t want to. Some also accused school personnel of knowing Heidesch was asking students to change in his office and communicating with them through his cellphone, court documents said.