Former drum corps director George Hopkins charged with sexual assault


George Hopkins

George Hopkins, the former director of Allentown’s famed Cadets drum corps and among the most decorated leaders in the youth marching band activity, has been charged with two counts of felony sexual assault, the Lehigh County District Attorney’s office announced Tuesday.

George Hopkins, the former director of Allentown’s famed Cadets drum corps, was charged Tuesday with sexually assaulting two former employees, another striking turn in what had been an illustrious, four-decade-long career that took Hopkins to the top of the national youth activity.

Hopkins was forced out as director of the Cadets in April after the Inquirer and Daily News published accusations of nine women who said he had sexually harassed or assaulted them. The revelations, which sparked wide calls for change within the drum corps community, led other accusers to come forward, including the two women whose accusations resulted in the charges.

Hopkins, 62, surrendered to authorities, and was arraigned and released on $50,000 bail, according to the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 4.

Thomas Bergstrom, Hopkins’ lawyer, said his client would fight the charges.

“We’re trying this case,” he said. “There’s just no doubt about it.”

The sexual assault charges, which are second-degree felonies, stem from the accusations of two women who worked for Youth Education in the Arts (YEA), the nonprofit group that owns the Cadets and for which Hopkins served as CEO. The women are identified by prosecutors by their initials.

One of the women, Jess Beyer of Drexel Hill, previously shared her account publicly. She marched with the Cadets in 2006 and was hired by Hopkins the following year. She said that in 2008 Hopkins, her superior, asked her to come to his apartment to help with a work-related project. She told prosecutors Hopkins offered her a glass of wine and that after drinking some, she began to feel as if she were “floating on the ceiling.”

“Hopkins took the victim to his bedroom, where he undressed himself and sexually assaulted her,” prosecutors wrote in a news release. “J.B. never consented to having sex with Hopkins, and in fact, she stated that she told him ‘no’ multiple times.”

The second woman, identified by prosecutors as D.S., worked for the organization from 2006 to 2007. She said that in 2010, while working for another drum corps, she met with Hopkins at an Allentown bar for a work-related meeting. She said she consumed just two drinks but later felt unable to stand.

The woman previously told a reporter she believes she was drugged by Hopkins.

“D.S. stated that she then went to Hopkins’ apartment in Allentown,” the prosecutors wrote in the news release. “As she sat on the couch there, Hopkins grabbed her, pulled her on top of him, and ripped her shirt. D.S. began crying and asked Hopkins to let her ‘go home.’ Hopkins carried her into his bedroom, where the alleged sexual assault took place.”

Neither woman responded to requests for comment Tuesday.

The decision by prosecutors to press charges against Hopkins came as a relief to several of Hopkins’ other accusers.

“I was in tears when I read it,” said Debra Barcus, who has accused Hopkins of groping her on a Cadets bus in 1980, when she was 16 and he, 23. “Because I’m just so relieved. I want this to go to trial. I want everything to come out.”

Another woman, who agreed to be identified by her first name, Marie, said she also grew emotional upon hearing the news. Marie started working for the organization in 1999 and has accused Hopkins of raping her in her apartment one morning before work. She called it “incredibly powerful” that her decision to share her story laid the groundwork for later accusers to come forward.

Hopkins was among the longest-serving and most decorated directors in drum corps, an activity in which thousands of youths ages 16 to 22 travel the country each summer performing marching band numbers before devoted audiences. He led the Cadets to 10 world championships and earned a reputation as an innovator and mentor to hundreds of young people.

Former employees have since described him as a controlling, volatile, and abusive boss.

As he prepares for a lengthy legal fight, Hopkins is suing his former employer for more than $650,000 in severance, unused vacation time, unpaid business expenses, bonus pay, and 401(k) contributions. The suit, first reported by the Allentown Morning Call, was filed in federal court in August.

The bulk of the sum, more than $580,000, comes from a severance agreement in Hopkins’ contract that provides a month of pay for each of the 35 years he was the organization’s CEO. Hopkins was paid $199,000 annually in 2017, according to his contract, which was filed as part of the suit. Notably, the contract provides him severance at the time of a “mutually agreed”-upon departure from the organization.

In the suit, Hopkins says he resigned from the organization on April 5, the day the Inquirer published its investigation, and provided an April 10 letter from the then-chairman of the YEA board, Mike Kehoss, acknowledging Hopkins’ resignation.

Kehoss and the rest of the YEA board resigned the following day, amid growing backlash.

Doug Rutherford, who took over as chairman of the board, said at the time that he had not seen a resignation letter from Hopkins or other evidence of his resignation. He and the new board soon after voted to fire Hopkins.

In a statement Tuesday, Rutherford said Hopkins was “terminated for cause” and said the nonprofit would dispute the suit. He called the charges the “next step in this sad case” and vowed to continue focusing on the nonprofit’s programs, which serve hundreds of youth each year.

Tricia L. Nadolny

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