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Gwinnett soccer coach charged with robbery

BUFORD — A youth league soccer coach and former prep standout has been charged with robbery in an incident that has spurred a prominent Gwinnett soccer club to revamp its policy on background checks.

Dacula resident Patrick Ahern, 27, is charged with robbery by sudden snatching, a felony. He was arrested Friday and released hours later from the Gwinnett County Jail on $2,400 bond.

Ahern has been removed as a coach with Atlanta Fire United, a soccer club with leagues across northern Gwinnett that includes more than 3,500 players. Since his hiring from a Dacula club in August, Ahern had coached girls on two teams for ages 16-and-under and 13, club officials said.

A message left on Ahern’s cellphone was not returned this week. His current attorney could not be reached.

Police became involved the afternoon of Sept. 27, when the father of a 16-year-old Buford girl told police he found Ahern — the girl’s coach — naked in his daughter’s room. The two were “engaged in physical contact,” the father told police, according to a Gwinnett police report.

In an effort to document the scene, the father grabbed his daughter’s cellphone and tried to take a photograph, but Ahern allegedly snatched the phone and fled. The phone was later recovered in a wooded area and returned to the girl, the report states.

The case was assigned to an investigator Oct. 1, but Ahern retained an attorney and refused to give a statement, the report states. The father initially made allegations of rape, but that was determined not to have happened, Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said this week.

The investigator determined last week she’d gathered enough probable cause to charge Ahern and took out a warrant for his arrest.

Greg Hoover, AFU club president, said Ahern, who is married, was barred from coaching the teams the night of the alleged incident and has since been permanently removed. The allegations have led to an overhaul of AFU background checks, which previously were conducted by Georgia Soccer, the state’s governing body for soccer programs.

Background checks will now be conducted in-house, and each coach in the club is being vetted, Hoover said.

“It’s the same background check you have to go through if you’re going to work at a day care with young kids ... The most stringent ones in the state,” Hoover said Thursday. “All of our coaches will have had full background checks done in the next three weeks.”

Rick Skirvin, Georgia Soccer executive director, said records pertaining to coaches are private. All youth coaches are required to become licensed through the state, he said.

Hoover has concerns the vetting process for licensing is not stringent enough. Only felony convictions or charges of crimes against children or violent crime will preclude coaches from being licensed through the state, he said.

“We were told that (Ahern) had a background check done in February of this year,” Hoover said. “We had no idea about his other history.”

That history includes eight bookings at the Gwinnett County Jail since 2003, based on charges that include misdemeanor marijuana possession, DUI and subsequent probation violations. Court records show Ahern was convicted in only one case, a DUI arrest in 2009. He was sentenced to serve 12 months probation and pay $2,850 in fines, records show.

Attorney Joseph Habachy previously represented Ahern and said they beat at least one case in court.

“We previously worked some miracles,” Habachy said.

Before his collegiate career at Memphis University and other schools, Ahern was a decorated soccer player at Duluth High School. He earned MVP, best sportsmanship and all-county honors for teams that reached the state finals (2003) and semifinals (2002).

The AFU has existed for nearly 30 years, since its meager beginnings on borrowed land and pastures, and Hoover said the arrest marks the only incident of its kind in club history.

“We’re going to make sure we do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Hoover said. “It’s just a very, very unfortunate circumstance.”