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Crime News

Police Investigate Death Of Kansas City Children's Theatre Director, Accused Of Sexual Abuse In Days Leading Up To Death

The day of his death, the Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri posted on Facebook that its Board of Directors had accepted the resignation of Jeff Church, but would continue to investigate the allegations against him.

By Caitlin Schunn
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Kansas City, Missouri police are investigating the death of the former, longtime artistic director of the Coterie Theatre, who was accused of sexual abuse just days before he died, according to the theatre.

Police told Oxygen.com they found Jeff Church dead in his home on W. 63th St. around 1:45 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Officers were responding to a report of a dead body, and EMS confirmed Church was dead upon arrival. Police said someone reported the dead body to 911 but did not share the identity of this person.

The medical examiner’s office is still investigating the manner and cause of death.

The day before his death, the Coterie Theatre posted on Facebook that the board of directors was placing Church on leave after it learned of “serious allegations” against him and had hired an outside investigator to look into the allegations.

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“These are very troubling allegations that must be fully, and robustly, investigated,” the post read. “One of the key components of our mission is to use the arts as an essential force in promoting justice for all. We are fully committed to pursuing the investigation in this spirit.”

The Theater issued a separate statement on Wednesday. “For those brave souls who publicly spoke their truth: we see you. We hear you. We support you as you work to heal from unimaginable pain. We hope you are uplifted by the love and support of the arts community that surrounds you,” the Coterie Theatre posted on Facebook.
The Theatre added its investigation into the allegations of abuse will continue, and urged anyone with claims of misconduct against Coterie staff or cast members to contact coterieinvestigation@gmail.com
“We are reviewing our policies and procedures and remain unequivocally and passionately committed to a safe and healthy, supportive working environment,” the post said. 

In a nearly nine-minute video posted on Facebook the morning of Dec. 20, Dashawn Young, a local actor, recalled an alleged incident from the summer of 2017 at a pool party at Church’s residence.

“The only difference between what I went through with the guy running the Coterie Theatre and Harvey Weinstein, is Harvey Weinstein’s famous,” Young said in the video. “This pool party was life changing, and I didn’t even know it until like weeks after.”

Young alleges in the video that at the end of the party, he went to the bathroom to change, but couldn’t find his clothes, and says Church moved his clothes upstairs to his room. Young says Church followed him into the room, alleging, “the next thing you know he’s touching me, kind of pushes me onto his bed, and then his mouth is on my body parts. It escalated really quick to being fully on the bed. It just didn’t stop. Literally, the words out of his mouth were ‘I don’t care, I don’t care what you want.’”

Young alleges Church also kept harassing him after the encounter.

“This person is a prominent figure,” Young said in the video. “I didn’t want to burn a bridge or anything. I was just uncomfortable about that situation — I didn’t know what to do.”

The post set off a series of allegations on social media in recent days, including by KKFI 90.1 radio host Mark Manning, who wrote in a Facebook post on Friday morning that he reached out to Young to share he’d had a similar experience with Church, in 1991, when he was 27 years old. 

Manning wrote he went to an after party at a then-director Church’s home after a production of “Dinosaurs” at the Coterie Theatre. He said he asked to use a phone to call a cab, and Church directed him to his bedroom to use it.

“There I was, sitting on the edge of his bed when I called for a taxi…I found myself pushed back on the bed, his mouth was on my body parts, my clothing seemed to disappear,” Manning wrote. “It was like a very bad dream, and I really really wished it was a dream, but it wasn’t, it actually and unfortunately happened.”

Manning said he continued to work jobs where he was in contact with Church, but eventually decided to quit professional theatre in Kansas City. He alleged in the post that theatre directors have “enormous” influence over who gets cast in productions.

“I also have heard multiple first-hand and second-hand stories of so many others who have been victimized by his sexual assaults,” Manning wrote. “When I saw Deshawn’s video, and my reaction was so raw and upsetting, I knew had to help Deshawn. I had to come forward with my own experience, to show the pattern of this director’s horrible behavior. His pattern of abuse. He was someone I would never trust, and he was the director of a children’s theatre company.”

KC Comeaux, an actor who worked with Church, also wrote a Facebook post Friday alleging he was sexually assaulted by Church.

“Many of you in Kansas City had no idea of this man’s behavior,” he wrote. “Many of you had heard rumors. But I’m here to tell you that he is a predator. He has groomed, abused, and assaulted numerous young men over the course of 30+ years. Myself included.”

On Christmas Eve, the same day Church died, the theatre posted on Facebook it had accepted the resignation of Jeff Church effective immediately and wrote: “The Coterie remains committed to investigating the serious allegations against him over the coming days.”

Jake Walker, the executive director of the Theatre Community Fund of Kansas City, posted on Facebook on Wednesday, writing that the organization has found resources for those affected. "Having professional help as we process the events of the last week is so important," he shared.

In a Tuesday post, Walker additionally wrote: “A friend is dead. A friend who did horrific things to people…But there are other friends, that are alive, and they put their whole selves out, exposed and vulnerable and brave, in the hopes that what that man did to them would not happen to anyone else.”

Church served at the children’s theatre for more than 30 years, and was instrumental to The Coterie being named one of the best five theatres for children in the U.S. by Time magazine