Ringgold School District Former Guidance Counselor Faces Sex Charges
UPDATE: 4/11/2016: ALL CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST COUNSELOR – WASHINGTON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
Observer-Reporter – MonValley
A Westmoreland County judge dismissed charges against a former Ringgold High School guidance counselor accused of a sexual relationship with a student.
Judge Christopher A. Feliciani dismissed four counts of intercourse/sexual contact with a student against Lianne Danko, 34, of Rostraver Township.
Rostraver police accused Danko in May 2015 of having sex with a student.
Danko was removed from the high school in February 2015 and later resigned.
Court records show Feliciani dismissed the charges April 1. Prosectors asked to drop the case because the student didn’t wish to pursue charges.
“We’re denying all allegations,” said defense attorney David Shrager. “We’re going to be attacking the factual allegations and the constitutionality of the law,” said Shrager. “More over, it’s important to note there’s some motivations for him to be less than truthful. It’s my understanding that he may be getting shielding from prosecution, but I have to continue to investigate on some separate activities.” During the preliminary hearing, Shrager asked the victim if there were any pictures of underage girls on his cell phone in states of undress. The prosecution objected and the district justice upheld it. Shrager says all will be made clear during the trial. “Whenever we hear accusations like this, people have to be mindful that people are innocent until proven guilty and we have to listen to all of the evidence,” said Shrager.
Posted: 6:00 p.m. Friday, May 29, 2015 — WPXI Channel 11 News Pittsburgh
Lianne Danko, 33, of Rolling Hill Farm Drive, Rostraver, is charged with four counts of institutional sexual assault. Danko, who was arrested May 21, appeared for a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Joseph Dalfonso in Monessen. Defense attorney David J. Shrager told The Valley Independent he will fight the constitutionality of the law under which Danko was charged. Shrager said the law is vague. Shrager said the law does not stipulate high school alone and could be construed to permit prosecution of a college professor having a sexual relationship with a student. As an example, Shrager cited the possibility of a 50-year-old night school student being involved with a professor his or her own age. “Is that rape?” Shrager asked. “That’s school. The law does not say high school.” Shrager said he was pleased with the results of the hearing. “We were able to get some important information. We may have discovered some potential bias by the witness,” Shrager said of the alleged victim. “He may be receiving some protection from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.” The Valley Independent does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes. He declined to comment further, suggesting that information will come out at a later date. The alleged victim testified that the relationship began in the high school, where he went to his guidance counselor – Danko – for advice. He testified that he and Danko ended up kissing in her office, according to WPXI -TV, The Valley Independent’s news partner. “She said I was handsome,” the student testified. “We kissed a couple of times in the guidance office. We both wanted to hang out, so she picked a place and we met there.” Police said the two had sex twice last fall at a park-and-ride lot at the intersection of state Route 201 and Pricedale Road in Rostraver. The initial incident occurred during a November weekend. Police said Danko exited her vehicle, got into the front passenger seat of the student’s vehicle and performed a sex act. Police said the two met there a week later and again engaged in sexual activity in the vehicle. Danko allegedly told the student to not tell anyone about the encounter or she could lose her job. When prosecutors asked Friday what they did, the student testified they “talked, kissed and touched.” The student testifed,“We had sex. She told me that she trusted me, and that she had to get home to her kids,” WPXI reported. Danko, who is not married, has two children, ages 3 and 5. In February, Ringgold Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla confirmed to The Valley Independent that district officials were investigating purported “inappropriate contact” between an employee and a high school student. She called the issue “a personnel matter.” In a statement to parents on the district website, Polkabla said the employee had been removed from district property and was ordered to have no contact with students. On Feb. 26 during a special meeting, the Ringgold School Board accepted Danko’s resignation “under terms discussed in executive session.” Polkabla declined to specify the terms to a Valley Independent reporter. Danko remained free on bond Friday. “This is obviously devastating,” Shrager said. “She’s accused of a pretty embarrassing and negative thing. She took pleasure in being a member of the school community, and that’s over for her.”
Alleged victim testifies she told him she trusted him
Philly.com, The Associated Press, Posted: Saturday, May 30, 2015, 10:59 AM
Friday, May 22, 2015 — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette By Megan Henney A trail of months-old text messages, followed by a police investigation that discovers an inappropriate relationship between an educator and a student: It’s a story line that’s becoming all too familiar. At Plum High School, police have charged two teachers with crimes involving students. At Norwin High School, an investigation is ongoing after what were described as inappropriate text messages were found between a teacher and a student. It unfolded again Thursday in the Ringgold School District, where police announced they had filed charges against a former guidance counselor for allegedly having sex with a high school football player. Rostraver police said Lianne Danko, 33, of Rostraver, was charged with three counts of institutional sexual assault. According to a criminal complaint, Ms. Danko engaged in an inappropriate relationship between October and November with an 18-year-old male student who had been seeing her to discuss his relationship problems. The two began a sexual relationship sometime in November, police said. Laura Manko, another guidance counselor at the high school, brought the relationship to the attention of school administrators in February after a friend of the student showed her text messages between the student and Ms. Danko, according to the complaint. Police said the report was made Feb. 18, and Ms. Danko was banned from school property and relieved of her duties. Although the student was 18, Ms. Danko held a position of “power, authority and supervision that has statutory boundaries,” according to the complaint. A letter posted on the school district website explained the ongoing investigation to parents and guardians. Ms. Danko’s attorney, David J. Shrager, said he is anxious to defend the charges against his client, who has no previous criminal history. “My understanding is that she’s well-liked and respected in her community,” he said. Ms. Danko is free on $50,000 bond and her preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 29. Ringgold superintendent Karen Polkabla said she believes the school took appropriate action by reporting the incident to law enforcement agencies as well as to the state Department of Education. The district did not conduct its own investigation because all of the alleged incidents occurred off school grounds, she said. “We’ll cooperate with police in anyway that we can,” she said. According to the criminal complaint and a news release from Rostraver police Chief Gregory C. Resetar concerning the investigation: The student told police he would speak with Ms. Danko almost every day, and they began exchanging increasingly intimate text messages in which Ms. Danko shared her family problems and wrote that she wanted to “cuddle” and perform a sex act on him. On Oct. 29, Ms. Danko asked the student to drive her back to school from a parade in Monongahela. As they were driving, the student said, she held his hand and rubbed his thigh, the complaint said. That evening, Ms. Danko sent the student a picture of her wearing lingerie and told him to delete it after he received it. In November, Ms. Danko and the student decided to meet at a park-and-ride lot in Belle Vernon. Ms. Danko got into the student’s vehicle and performed a sex act on him. That evening, they exchanged more text messages about their desire to have sex. Ms. Danko told the student that after he graduated, they “could make their relationship official” and get their own place, the complaint said. Almost a week later, the two again met in the park-and-ride lot and shortly after that rendezvous, they began having sex, police said. In February, the student texted a friend and told him about his relationship with Ms. Danko. The student sent his skeptical friend screenshots of conversations between himself and Ms. Danko. The friend went to Ms. Manko, the other guidance counselor, and showed her the screenshots while covering the names of those involved, police said. Ms. Manko reported the incident to Ringgold High School principal Jason Minniti, then assistant superintendent Jeffrey Matty brought the matter to school police. That led to the investigation and Ms. Danko’s arrest Thursday.
Thursday, May 21, 2015 — Oberserver-Reporter – Southwestern Pennsylvania By Scott Beveridge Ringgold School District administrators became suspicious of a relationship a guidance counselor was having with a high school football player after learning she was at a game wearing a team sweatshirt bearing his last name, Rostraver police said. A co-worker of the former counselor, Lianne Danko, reported she was “stunned” to have witnessed Danko approach the player and embrace him while he was leaving the football field in November, Rostraver police stated in court records charging Danko Thursday with institutional sexual assault involving the 18-year-old student. “Miss Danko crossed the lines of professionalism and the statutory boundary which constitutes institutional sexual assault,” Rostraver police Chief Greg Resetar said at a Thursday news conference before Danko, 33, of Rostraver was arraigned in the case. Rostraver police were asked Feb. 18 to investigate Danko, of 246 Rolling Hill Farm Drive, after the other guidance counselor, Laura Manko, raised other concerns about the situation to her high school principal. Manko said Danko purchased a shirt and socks for the Ringgold senior and brought them to school in October for him to wear to a game where players were planning to wear pink clothes. Manko also reported seeing inappropriate text messages between Danko and the student, information that was shown to her by another student. Ringgold police Chief Clayton Shell interviewed the senior Feb. 17, and he confessed to having sex twice with Danko, once on Nov. 14 and again about a week later, in his car in a park-and-ride lot near the Rostraver exit from Interstate 70, police stated in the affidavit. Danko was the student’s guidance counselor, and he said he visited her for advice at the beginning of this school year about problems he was having with his girlfriend. He said he visited her nearly every day and Danko and he also shared many text messages, the court record states. The student allegedly told police Danko said he was attractive and also began to tell him about problems she was having with her family in September or October. Danko then asked him Oct. 29 to drive her from a parade in Monongahela to the high school in Carroll Township. He said Danko held his hand and rubbed his thigh during the ride to the school, the records showed. He also claimed Danko texted him a photo of her wearing lingerie and instructed him to quickly delete the image from his phone, the document indicates. The two began talking about “hanging out” and allegedly decided to meet at the park-and-ride lot. Police said the student related to them Danko told him not to tell anyone about their relationship because she would lose her job. The student also said “Danko told him they could have their own place, and after he graduates they can make it official,” police stated in the affidavit. Police said Danko and the student have ended their relationship. Danko, who was hired at Ringgold in August 2007, resigned from her job shortly after a letter from the superintendent was posted on the district’s website in February alerting parents of an investigation of an employee accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student. Ringgold Superintendent Karen Polkabla said the district took the “appropriate actions” by removing Danko from the high school during the investigation and by notifying Rostraver police about the accusations against her. District Judge Joseph Dalfonso in Monessen released Danko from custody after her mother posted 10 percent of her $50,000 bond. Danko’s attorney, David J. Shrager of Pittsburgh, said he planned to “vigorously defend the charges” against his client. “These are very serious charges,” Shrager said. “My client has no previous criminal record and is well-liked and respected.”
Thursday, May 21, 2015 — KDKA CBS Local News Pittsburgh
NEW EAGLE (KDKA) – A former guidance counselor at Ringgold High School in Washington County has been charged with sexually assaulting a student.
A news conference on the investigation was held Thursday afternoon.
Lianne Danko, 34, was arrested and charged with three felony counts of institutional sexual assault.
The alleged victim is an 18-year-old male student who is a senior at the school.
The student allegedly came to Danko wanting to discuss problems with his girlfriend, after that the two would text each other.
“In late September or early October, Danko’s text messages became more intimate in nature,” said Rostraver Police Chief Greg Resetar.
“Danko subsequently began to compliment the student, saying he was attractive, and then revealed she wanted to cuddle and have sexual relations with him,” added Resetar.
Eventually, Danko and the student had sex multiple times at a Park and Ride in Rostraver.
The student said Danko told him they could get a place together after he graduated.
Officials say they found out about the alleged assault after rumors started flying around the school. When one of Danko’s colleagues, a fellow guidance counselor, heard the rumors, he went to the administration.
Danko was arrested Thursday morning. She is currently out on bond.
Thursday, May 21, 2015 — WPXI Channel 11 News Pittsburgh
Monogahala, PA — During a news conference Thursday morning, police announced that Lianne Danko had been arrested and charged with three counts of institutional sexual assault.
Investigators said Danko, a former guidance counselor at Ringgold High School, had sex at the Park & Ride in Belle Vernon with a Ringgold football player, and at one point, showed up at a game wearing a T-shirt with the player’s name on it.
Police said the relationship started with text messages after the student, 18, went to Danko to discuss problems that he was having with his girlfriend.
“Following the encounters, Danko exchanged texts and her desire to have sex, and that after he graduates they can get their own place and make it official,” said Rostraver Police Chief Gregory Resetar.
Danko sent the student a picture of herself in lingerie and told him to delete it, investigators said.
After they had sex, she told him that he couldn’t tell anybody or she could lose her job.
According to police, Danko was caught after the victim sent his friend a screenshot between the two talking about their relationship.
“It’s very shocking, more shocking to see she was arrested,” said Ringgold graduate Velma Secrist. “At least they are doing something about it.”
School officials said Danko was removed from school district property after the allegations came to light in February.
Former Ringgold High School guidance counselor arrested, charged with institutional sex assault of student
Thursday, May 21, 2015 — WTAE Channel 4 News Pittsburgh
She was a guidance counselor and a cheerleading coach; he was an 18-year old senior football player at Ringgold High School.
On Thursday, Rostraver Township police went to the home of Lianne Danko, allowed her to make arrangements for her children’s care, then handcuffed the 33-year-old woman and arrested her on a charges of institutional sexual assault against the student.
Police said the alleged relationship began when the student went to Danko in her role as a counselor to talk about his problems. It ended up with Danko becoming the teen’s girlfriend and sex partner, police said.
The former Ringgold School District employee was suspended then resigned when the allegations first came to light in February. She is now charged with three counts of institutional sex assault against the student.
The criminal complaint alleges that Danko pursued a sexual relationship with the student, sending him increasingly frequent and intimate text messages, including a photo of herself in lingerie. The student told police she was talking and texting with him almost daily; that she told him he was attractive and that she wanted to cuddle and have sex.
They allegedly met twice for sex in the student’s car at a park-and-ride lot in Rostraver last November.
“Danko told the student he could not tell anybody about them having sex because she could lose her job,” said Chief Gregory Resetar, of Rostraver Police.
Danko’s alleged behavior at a Ringgold football game raised suspicions with some observers. Police said she was seen wearing a sweatshirt with the teen’s name written on the back, while giving the high school football player a hug as he coming off the playing field.
“She had approached him and there was an embrace between her and him,” which stuck witnesses as odd behavior, said Rostraver Police Lt John Christner.
“Danko told the student that they would have their own place and (that) after he graduates they can make it official,” said Resetar.
The relationship came to light, police say, when the alleged victim bragged about it to another student, who then notified a different guidance counselor. The Ringgold school district then contacted police.
“Luckily we did have a student who stepped forward to a guidance counselor and let us know about this, and we took care of it as soon as we possibly could,” said Dr. Karen Polkabla, Ringgold School superintendent.
“Parents must be aware of what’s going on in their student’s lives and they need to tell us so that we can help. Because if we don’t know, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Polkabla said.
Resetar said it makes no difference under the law that the student was 18.
“As long as a student is still a student within a school district, it would be inappropriate for any teacher, especially a guidance counselor, to overstep that boundary. She’s in a position of power, authority, supervision, discipline, Resetar said. “Danko crossed the lines of professionalism and the statutory boundary which constitutes institutional sexual assault,” he said.
Ringgold School District is in Washington County. Jurisdiction for law enforcement and prosecution is in Rostraver, Westmoreland County, where the most serious crimes allegedly occurred.
Danko declined to comment as officers escorted her out of the police station to take her to District Judge Joseph Dalfonso’s office for arraignment. After her arraignment she was freed on bond and she faces a preliminary hearing on May 29 at 10:45 a.m. before Dalfonso.
Thursday, May 21, 2015 — WTAE Channel 4 News Pittsburgh
Thursday, May 21, 2015 — Pittsburgh Trib Live
By Rick Bruni Jr. and Jeremy Sellew
A former Ringgold High School guidance counselor was accused Wednesday of having sex with a student while she was employed by the district.
Lianne Danko, 33, of Rolling Hill Farm Drive, Rostraver, was charged with four counts of institutional sexual assault.
Rostraver police arrested Danko Thursday morning at her home.
“She was very cooperative,” Rostraver police Lt. John Christner said during a press conference Thursday. “She didn’t know we were coming, so she needed to make arrangements to have her kids taken care of.”
Danko, who is not married, has two children, ages 3 and 5.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, Danko met the alleged victim, an 18-year-old male student, twice for sexual encounters last autumn at the park-and-ride lot at the intersection of state Route 201 and Pricedale Road.
The Valley Independent does not identify alleged sex crime victims.
The initial rendezvous occurred at the parking lot during a November weekend. Police said Danko exited her vehicle, got into the front passenger seat of the student’s vehicle and performed a sex act.
Police said the two met there a week later and again engaged in sexual activity in the vehicle. Danko allegedly told the student to not tell anyone about the encounter or she could lose her job.
In mid-February, the student told a friend, also a Ringgold student, about the encounters.
When the friend doubted the claims, the student text-messaged Danko and asked her to “wear the underwear she had on” when they had sex, police said. Danko purportedly responded, “I’ll see what I can do.”
The alleged victim then sent the screen shot of Danko’s response to his friend, who later showed it to high school guidance counselor Laura Manko.
Manko immediately reported the exchange to Ringgold High School Principal Jason Minniti, police said.
Police said that during an interview, Manko said she and Danko had been good friends since they were hired in August 2007. Both were cheer coaches.
Manko said Danko’s inappropriate and sometimes-brazen behavior involving the student raised her suspicion, police said.
In one instance, Danko purportedly wore the student’s hooded sweatshirt bearing his last name as he participated in an athletics contest during November, according to police.
After the game, Danko approached the student and embraced him as he was leaving the field, Manko told police.
“Witnesses said they were caught off guard and found that as odd,” Christner said of the alleged embrace.
Rostraver police were alerted about the alleged relationship and incidents Feb. 18 by Ringgold district police Chief Clayton Shell.
When police interviewed the alleged victim Feb. 19, he purportedly said the relationship began when he sought help from Danko for girl problems not long after the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
“He indicated to us that he would talk to her almost every day and frequently exchanged text messages after she gave him her phone number,” Rostraver police Chief Greg Resetar said at the press conference.
“In late September or early October, text messages started to become intimate in nature, and she started to confide in the student and build trust by disclosing her personal problems.”
The student allegedly told police Danko told him he was “attractive” and “that’s when things started to heat up,” according to court documents.
The student maintained that Danko would tell him she wanted to “cuddle.”
The relationship reached another level on Oct. 29 when Danko held the student’s hand and rubbed his thigh as she drove him from a parade in Monongahela to the high school, police said.
Danko then allegedly texted a picture of herself in lingerie and told him to delete it when he received it, police said. That’s when the two began planning to meet outside of school and agreed upon the park-and-ride site, police said.
Danko allegedly told the victim they could be together and have their own place after he graduated.
In February, Ringgold Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla confirmed to The Valley Independent that district officials were investigating purported “inappropriate contact” between an employee and a high school student and called the issue “a personnel matter.”
In a statement to parents on the district website, Polkabla said the employee had been removed from district property and was ordered to have no contact with students.
On Feb. 26 during a special meeting, the Ringgold School Board accepted Danko’s resignation “under terms discussed in executive session.”
Polkabla declined to specify the terms to a Valley Independent reporter. Solicitor Tim Berggren said it was district policy not to comment on personnel matters.
Resetar said the victim has cooperated with police throughout the investigation and that even though he was 18, the fact remains that he was a student.
“She was in a position of power, authority and supervision,” Resetar said. “It’s inappropriate for any teacher, guidance counselor … anyone to overstep that boundary. Age does not matter.”
Any incidents that occurred in the Monongahela or Carroll areas, where Ringgold High School is located, would become part of the Rostraver case, Resetar said.
Danko was transported from the Rostraver police station to Magisterial District Judge Joseph Dalfonso’s office in Monessen, where she was arraigned.
Danko was met there by her mother, grandfather and attorney David Shrager of Pittsburgh.
During her arraignment, Danko said nothing other than to confirm her phone number and address to the judge.
Shrager argued that she should be released on her own recognizance, that she didn’t have a criminal record, has lived in the Mon Valley her entire life and does not pose a flight risk.
Dalfonso set bond at $50,000 cash, with 10 percent acceptable.
Dalfonso ordered Danko to have no contact with the alleged victim.
At that point, her mother had a checkbook out and was prepared to post her daughter’s bond. She went to the bank to get the necessary cash.
Danko is scheduled to appear before Dalfonso at 10:45 a.m. May 29 for a preliminary hearing.