NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – The former high school boys basketball coach accused of getting scores of underage students to strip naked with him alone behind closed doors for body-fat tests over multiple decades has been charged with sexual assault and child molestation.
Aaron Thomas, 55, of North Kingstown, was charged Thursday with second-degree sexual assault and second-degree child molestation, according to charging documents filed in court. The criminal offenses stem from an eight-month law enforcement probe spurred by a Target 12 investigation last October into the so-called “naked fat tests.”
The penalty for second-degree sexual assault carries a mandatory minimum of three years and a maximum of 15 years in prison, according to state law. For a second-degree child molestation conviction, the mandatory minimum is six years and the maximum is 30 years in prison.
WATCH: Aaron Thomas questioned about charges (story continues below video)
R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office and the North Kingstown Police Department brought the charges. Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned on Aug. 19, according to court documents.
Attorney John MacDonald said Thomas “adamantly denies that any criminal activity took place.”
“The sole purpose of the testing program was to better the athletic performance of North Kingstown High School’s student-athletes,” MacDonald added. “Hundreds of student-athletes participated in this program over the course of many years and greatly benefited from it. Mr. Thomas looks forward to his day in court and the opportunity to clear his name.”
The former coach is accused of engaging in sexual contact with two victims, according to Neronha and North Kingstown Police Chief Patrick Flanagan. The sexual molestation charge stems from alleged sexual contact between Thomas and the victim between 2000 and 2002, according to law enforcement. The sexual assault charge is tied to alleged sexual contact with a victim between 2019 and 2020.
As part of the the investigation, law enforcement officials said they interviewed 30 former students who attended North Kingstown High from the early 1990s through 2020. Considering how many students were involved, it wasn’t immediately clear why law enforcement only brought two criminal charges.
But in a news release, Neronha’s office highlighted the state’s sexual assault law, which carries only a brief statute of limitation of three years, meaning the law wouldn’t apply to most students who were naked with Thomas at any time before 2019.
The child molestation law, meanwhile, doesn’t have a statute of limitations — but the law only applies to victims 14 years and younger. Students are typically about 14 years old when they enter high school.
Story continues below video.
Since Target 12 first reported about the naked fat tests last fall, dozens of former students have come forward to allege the former coach would bring them into his office as teenage student-athletes where he would have them strip down to their underwear. Once partly undressed, Thomas would ask them if they were “shy or not shy,” according to the students.
If the students responded, “not shy,” Thomas would direct them to take off their underwear so he could use a caliper tool to measure their upper inner thighs near their genitalia – a part of the body that isn’t typically evaluated for a body-fat test.
“I didn’t want to be ‘not shy’ because my entire childhood I wanted to play varsity basketball for North Kingstown,” a former student said recently during a televised interview with Target 12. “A lot of my heroes were ex-players that played there; people I looked up to, especially him. I really wanted him to like me, I wanted him to respect me.”
The students said the tests would happen to them as frequently as every month and the program included athletes from sports other than basketball, including football and wrestling. Students said the results of the body-fat tests were never connected to any type of follow-up exercise or dieting regimen.
Allegations of the naked fat tests date back to at least the early 1990s, shortly after Thomas became a coach at the high school, when students said the tests happened in a closet connected to the boys locker room.
Thomas continued to coach and teach until a former student reached out to former Superintendent Phil Auger in early 2021, calling on district leaders to look into the naked fat tests. A month later, the North Kingstown School Committee voted to fire an unnamed teacher, which Target 12 later confirmed was Thomas.
Thomas went on to resign in June 2021, ahead of his scheduled termination, and quietly left the high school after nearly three decades without any announcement. The district never publicly disclosed the naked fat test allegations, and Thomas was promptly hired at a Catholic school in a neighboring town.
The Catholic school fired Thomas days after Target 12 inquired about the naked fat tests, and the school’s administrators have since criticized North Kingstown for not warning them about the allegations against the former coach.
In the months since Target 12 first revealed the scandal publicly, North Kingstown schools have been in a state of tumult. Top administrators, including Auger, have resigned and parents have expressed outrage for months at public meetings.
Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha’s office has launched a civil-rights investigation into whether the school responded appropriately to allegations of sexual misconduct over the years. And the North Kingstown School Committee and Town Council have conducted their own investigations.
Former students have begun to sue the school district for failing to protect them, and at least two other North Kingstown coaches have been placed on administrative leave for inappropriate behavior – unrelated to the naked fat tests.
A former student first approached the North Kingstown Police Department about the naked fat tests in 2018, but local police didn’t ramp up their criminal probe until a second former student made the same accusations in early 2021. When Target 12 inquired about the allegations last fall, North Kingstown police issued a statement saying the investigation was closed.
But the investigation’s status later changed after Target 12 sought comment from the attorney general’s office, which went on to launch a joint investigation with the town police.