Coach Denies Targeting Child

GENERIC baseball home plate crime scene tape
The attorney representing a youth baseball coach accused of paying a player to hurt an 8-year-old mentally disabled teammate last month says his client is innocent and the whole case is the result of a misunderstanding.

Mark R. Downs Jr., 27, of Dunbar, was charged with offering one of his players $25 to hit the boy in the head with a baseball, police said. The boy was hit in the head and in the groin with a baseball just before a game and didn't play, police said.

Eric Forsythe, the president of the R.W. Clark Youth Baseball League, said the accusations were investigated before the T-ball season ended earlier this month, but league organizers could not prove that Downs did anything wrong.

Witnesses told police that Downs, a coach with the R.W. Clark Youth Baseball League, didn't want the boy to play in the T-ball game because of his disability.

Attorney Thomas W. Shaffer on Sunday night called the allegations "totally inaccurate."

"Mr. Downs has never requested any individual to assault (the boy), ... has never denied him the opportunity to play, and has children of his own and would not harm any child," Shaffer said.

In a previous game, Shaffer said, Downs had been cautioned by an umpire about venturing onto the field and had remarked to the entire team in jest, "Anybody who can line drive the ref with a ball, I'll give you $25."

"This was three games prior and had nothing to do with this game," Shaffer said. The coach was not even there the first time the child was struck, he said.

The 8-year-old's mother called state police after the boy was struck June 27 at the R.W. Clark baseball field in North Union Township, Fayette County, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. She said she suspected he wanted to keep the boy off the field, despite a league rule that required every player to participate in three innings a game, police said.

Downs was arrested and arraigned Friday on charges of criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault, corruption of minors, criminal conspiracy to commit simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. He was released from jail on an unsecured bond.