LAKEWOOD, Colo. - A former basketball referee has been convicted of groping girls during three high school games in Jefferson County in 2013.
A Jefferson County jury found Stephen Amador, 52, guilty Wednesday of nine misdemeanor counts of unlawful sexual contact, District Attorney Peter Weir said. Amador is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 28. He could potentially face a maximum penalty of two years in jail for each count.
Amador was convicted of groping five girls during three games in early 2013. A sixth victim was identified, but she could not be located at the time of the trial, said Pam Russell, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office.
"Five victims who testified. They did a fantastic job," Russell said. "Most of these girls have gone on to college and moved on."
Basketball players told Lakewood police the first time the referee groped them during a January 2013 game at a Lakewood school they didn't pay much attention, dismissing it as an unintentional mistake.
Then the referee would, again, brush a teen player across her breasts with both hands after handing her the ball for an inbounds pass. Or he would grab a player's buttocks, according to police records.
"Okay, this is getting weird," one girl recalled thinking to herself when she spoke with police detectives.
Then, while another player was shooting free throws, the girl said she was standing in the back court when she felt the referee "grab my right butt cheek" and squeeze for about a second, the report said.
The girl told police she was shocked and thought to herself, "Oh my God, did that just happen?" according to an arrest affidavit.
Teammates began asking each other if the "creepy" ref had groped them, too. A father overheard his daughter and her teammates complaining about the referee's sexual groping after the game. The dad called the school principal.
After learning about the incident, Jefferson County Public Schools officials contacted Lakewood police and stopped using Amador as a referee.
Amador's arrest spurred changes at the Colorado High School Activities Association, where Amador was a registered referee, certified to officiate at CHSAA sanctioned games. For seven years, Amador officiated at games for metro area athletic leagues and school districts, including JeffCo Public Schools and Denver Public Schools.
At the time, CHSAA didn't conduct criminal background checks on its 4,000 to 5,000 referees, who are classified as independent contractors.
The association didn't know that Amador had previously been arrested in Denver in 1991 on a felony sexual assault charge, and pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of misdemeanor assault, according to court records. In a separate case, he pleaded guilty to harassment in Douglas County later in 1991.
After the fallout from the Amador case, CHSAA in June 2013 began requiring anyone who wants to register as an official with CHSAA to have an arrest background check run by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Existing referees have to continue to have CBI checks run every three years, said CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Bert Borgmann.
"If they have any convictions on their record, then that is reviewed by the folks in our officials office and then a decision from them will be made as to whether or not (the person) will be allowed to register as an official for our association and for our schools," Borgmann told 7NEWS.
CHSAA is also studying best practices at other states in an effort to improve referee background checks.
"We're also looking at other options to give us even more information that we can readily get through CBI background checks," Borgmann said. "This is going to be an ongoing process as we trying to refine and clarify and do everything in our power to make everybody safe."