SANDUSKY, Ohio — An email chain between Sandusky’s police chief and the Cedar Point police chief shows a reluctance by the amusement park to publicly discuss reported sexual assaults involving its employees.
In an April 4 email with the subject line “sexual assaults at Cedar Point,” Sandusky Police Jared Oliver writes to Cedar Point Police Chief Ron Gilson, informing him of an upcoming interview he plans to do with a WTOL reporter.
Oliver writes: “Just FYI in case you want to come by.”
Gilson writes back: “In accordance with Cedar Fair policy, I am not permitted to speak on any topics unless instructed. If asked, let them know that the Cedar Fair Corporate Legal Team is reviewing their request…”
In the same email thread, Gilson went on to write that any statements would come through a park spokesman before adding: “Keep me posted on how it goes – sorry you have to be in the middle of this.”
To date, neither Gilson nor Cedar Point administrators have granted any interview requests despite 10 Investigates and our sisters stations WTOL in Toledo and WKYC in Cleveland repeatedly requesting them.
As part of our joint investigation, the TV stations have discovered that in the past five years, 29 sexual assault reports have filed with Sandusky Police involving Cedar Point employees. All of the alleged sexual assaults and reported rapes happened inside the employee dorms.
Two of those 29 happened this summer.
Since our reporting began in May, we have interviewed more than a half dozen women who said they endured sexual harassment or were victims of sexual assault while working for Cedar Point.
Taken together, the employees have painted a scenario in which park employees work long hours and return to a party-like atmosphere inside the employee dorms where alcohol use is common. Women we’ve interviewed said they have been harassed or sexually assaulted both on the job or after hours at the dorms.
What’s more – the employees allege that Cedar Point has turned a blind eye to the problem – going so far as to discourage employees from reporting these incidents.
Cedar Point has denied this.
In a previous statement provided in June to 10 Investigates, a park spokesman wrote:
“While we do not comment on specific personnel matters as we protect the privacy of our associates, we feel it is important to reiterate that every associate who feels unsafe in any way is welcome, without exception, to discuss with management. In no way are any associates discouraged from escalating any situation that may make them feel uncomfortable.”
The statement continued:
“Our safety programs and resources are robust. Our housing is monitored 24/7 with multiple resources available to all associates, including on-site security, an emergency texting program, a dedicated and confidential associate “Speak-Up Hotline,” and access to mental health programs.
Cedar Point takes these matters very seriously. All reports of associate misconduct are immediately responded to, reviewed, and if appropriate, escalated to local law enforcement for further investigation, and all reports related to alleged sexual assault are available through Sandusky PD.”
In an effort to better understand if the 29 reported sexual assaults is an undercount of sexual assaults, 10 Investigates and WTOL filed separate public records requests with Cedar Point police seeking information about how many sexual assaults the park’s own police department has investigated.
Gilson has not replied to any of our emails seeking that information.
WBNS 10TV, WKYC and WTOL have since filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court seeking those records and arguing that Cedar Point’s police agency should be beholden to public records because it provides public safety and its officer are publicly sworn-in through the city of Sandusky. They also go through state-authorized training just like other police officers and are given full arrest powers. That matter is still pending.
This summer, Cedar Point announced that it would dissolve its police department – eventually handing over policing responsibilities both in and around the park to Sandusky Police.
A separate email chain shows Sandusky’s Police Chief Jared Oliver wanted to announce that transition before the park’s statement on June 24.
In an email chain sent on June 13, Sandusky’s city manager writes to a Cedar Point’s senior vice president or park operations, asking about developing “interim statements and laying out a timeline for planning the change for both departments.”
The Cedar Point VP for park operations writes back that both police chiefs will need to discuss the transition and that he’ll send over a draft.
Sandusky Chief Oliver writes back that same day, saying he thinks a “transition statement should be made public as soon as possible. I continue to get inquiries weekly from the media…”
Cedar Point said in a statement released 11 days later that discussions about the transition began in 2019.
A park spokesman has not replied to follow-up emails from 10 Investigates. We want to know why the thrill park has been reluctant to discuss these sexual assaults publicly and what role, if any, the sexual assaults played in Cedar Point dissolving its own police agency.
Incidents leave lasting impacts
The women who have come forward – many of whom worked inside the park doing ride operations or food service – say the trauma they endured while working for Cedar Point and being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assaults sticks with them.
Erin McKay says she is still haunted by what she says happened to her.
Erin alleges that as an underage employee of Cedar Point she was raped inside one of the dorms by a male colleague in 2017. The person was never charged because she didn’t report it to police.
"I physically resisted and it wasn’t until he realized I was crying that he realized he messed up,” McKay told 10 Investigates.
Erin says she did not report the rape to Cedar Point management until two years later.
(Erin says a friend’s sexual assault experience that led to no criminal charges dissuaded her from going to police).
But she says she did report two other groping incidents to her Cedar Point managers. While Erin says one of the men involved in one of the groping incidents was fired, she alleges that her manager discouraged her from filing a police report.
“I was like ‘is this something I should do?’ Because I was like 16 or 17 and this man was like 35 groping me in the closest. And he said ‘do you really think your parents would let you work here?’ Because I was just in love with the job. And he was like - you shouldn’t do this because you wouldn’t be able to work here anymore.”
Now 21, Erin takes medication, has been treated for suicidal ideation and says she still suffers from post-traumatic stress. She says she even has trouble starting conversations or even being around men.
“I thought I was finally free when I moved out of state but these waves come in periodically of just more trauma of what really happened and how it’s still affecting me,” she said.
When asked about Cedar Point’s decision to transition away from its own police agency, Erin said: “They are just trying to cover themselves. They don’t want the public to know anything about what really happens at the park.”
Another woman, Demi Armes, says she worked at Cedar Point 15 years ago. She too described a party-like culture in and around the dorms and says there were incidents in which she was incapable of consent and felt victimized.
Demi says she lost her job at the park after getting into a fight with a co-worker who she says discovered she had nude images of her on a cell phone. Demi says she was asleep and did not consent to the photos.
She says she was called in to discuss the fight with Cedar Point but alleges police did nothing to address the images she says she did not agree to.
“So I feel like I have no voice… even today I feel like I have no voice,” she said.
Cedar Point turns down offer for sexual assault awareness training
Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said his office’s sexual assault awareness coordinator reached out to Cedar Point in 2019 – in part due to the large number of sexual assault allegations -- offering to provide educational awareness training to its employees.
“They never took us up on it,” Baxter said.
In an email provided by Baxter’s office, his sexual assault awareness coordinator wrote to Cedar Point in 2019 “through providing this information we can hopefully prevent some assaults …”
A Cedar Point spokesman has not offered any explanation to why this occurred.
Since 2019, 16 of the 29 sexual assaults have been reported.
“It’s just too many. It’s too many,” Baxter said.
But a 10 Investigates’ review shows of those 29 complaints, criminal charges have been filed in three cases – with one conviction for sexual battery.
Baxter says the cases can often be difficult to prosecute because there are no witnesses and “he said/she said” scenarios which make can make a high threshold of beyond a reasonable doubt difficult to obtain a conviction.
If you have information about this – or something else you’d like 10 Investigates to look into – please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.