GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio– Tony Farmer was once a high-flying basketball star at Garfield Heights High School, and as a senior this year, would have been one of the top college recruits in the country.
But Farmer had a stunning fall from grace in 2012.
The 18-year-old collapsed in court on August 21, after he was sentenced to three years in prison for kidnapping and assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Surveillance video obtained by the Fox 8 I-Team showed Farmer striking the woman in the head, and then punching and kicking her as she cowered in a corner.
Police said he later dragged her outside by her hair and continued the attack. The video shows that when she tried to get back inside the apartment building, he tried to drag her back outside, and then kicked her in the head at least four times.
Tony Farmer is now an inmate at the Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County.
The I-Team has learned that letters the fallen star is writing from behind prison walls have been brought to the attention of the judge who will decide if Farmer will be granted an early release.
Those letters have also landed one of his biggest supporters in hot water.
Eight months ago, Garfield Heights Basketball Coach and Youth Development Specialist Sonny Johnson spoke on Farmer’s behalf before Judge Pamela Barker sentenced his star player.
But now, Johnson is serving as Farmer’s unofficial “mailman,” according to the mother of a 17-year-old girl, who has been receiving sexually explicit letters from Farmer.
The mother recently notified Barker that “the address the letters were mailed to is that of Coach Sonny Johnson. Coach Johnson would receive them at his home and give them to my daughter at school. I feel that this is highly inappropriate.”
Fox 8 caught up with Johnson at his home, and when we asked about the letters from Farmer that he delivered, Johnson said, “well, just talk to the school about that.”
In her correspondence with the judge, the girl’s mother reveals that after she learned about the letters from Tony Farmer delivered by Johnson, she and her daughter had a meeting with the Garfield Heights superintendent.
In the letter, the mother said during the meeting “my daughter let it be known on the record that Tony had been abusing her for some time,” and “Tony had sex with my daughter on school grounds when he was 18, and she is still a minor.”
The mother also told the judge, “my daughter also informed the superintendent that she told Coach Johnson of this abuse, and he did nothing.”
Johnson told Fox 8, “do I believe kids do deserve second chances? Yeah, you know, so.” When we asked, “The mother is quite upset with you, can you understand why she’s upset?” Johnson responded, “I don’t know nothing. I mean, you got to talk to my superintendent, seriously, really talk to them.”
In response to questions from the I-Team, the Garfield Heights superintendent issued a statement that reads in part, “any incidents of student misconduct brought to our attention, including the matter you have asked about, are immediately investigated and promptly addressed in accordance with board policy and federal and state laws. The matter was investigated and referred to the Garfield Heights Police Department and Children and Family Services.”
The I-Team requested Johnson’s personnel file, which revealed that after a school district internal investigation, Superintendent Terrance Olszewski notified Johnson that the delivering of the letters to students from a prison inmate was potentially grounds for termination, but Olszewski recommended that Johnson be suspended for three days without pay, and then reduced the punishment to a written reprimand.
According to the superintendent’s letter to Johnson, “accepting mail at your home for our students is inappropriate and outside the standard of care. Our staff members are not the U.S. Mail.”
When Fox 8 offered Johnson the opportunity to respond to questions about his role in delivering the letters, Johnson said, “No, I’m fine. I’m fine about it, because if it’s something I could talk about, I would talk about it.”
According to a Garfield Heights police report filed after the superintendent notified police about the complaint about Farmer’s treatment of the 17-year-old girl, “the mother wishes no police action for the assaults that took place while in school.”
However, in her letter to the court, the mother asks the judge to take into account her daughter’s experience if Farmer seeks an early release from prison.
Her exact words were, “I know the system is overcrowded, but I would hate to see this happen to another young innocent girl.”
For extended coverage on this story, click here.