Former Ringgold guidance counselor facing sex charges
A former Ringgold High School guidance counselor was accused Wednesday of having sex with a student while she was employed by the district.
Lianne Danko, 33, of Rolling Hill Farm Drive, Rostraver, was charged with four counts of institutional sexual assault.
Rostraver police arrested Danko Thursday morning at her home.
“She was very cooperative,” Rostraver police Lt. John Christner said during a press conference Thursday. “She didn't know we were coming, so she needed to make arrangements to have her kids taken care of.”
Danko, who is not married, has two children, ages 3 and 5.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, Danko met the alleged victim, an 18-year-old male student, twice for sexual encounters last autumn at the park-and-ride lot at the intersection of state Route 201 and Pricedale Road.
The Valley Independent does not identify alleged sex crime victims.
The initial rendezvous occurred at the parking lot during a November weekend. Police said Danko exited her vehicle, got into the front passenger seat of the student's vehicle and performed a sex act.
Police said the two met there a week later and again engaged in sexual activity in the vehicle. Danko allegedly told the student to not tell anyone about the encounter or she could lose her job.
In mid-February, the student told a friend, also a Ringgold student, about the encounters.
When the friend doubted the claims, the student text-messaged Danko and asked her to “wear the underwear she had on” when they had sex, police said. Danko purportedly responded, “I'll see what I can do.”
The alleged victim then sent the screen shot of Danko's response to his friend, who later showed it to high school guidance counselor Laura Manko.
Manko immediately reported the exchange to Ringgold High School Principal Jason Minniti, police said.
Police said that during an interview, Manko said she and Danko had been good friends since they were hired in August 2007. Both were cheer coaches.
Manko said Danko's inappropriate and sometimes-brazen behavior involving the student raised her suspicion, police said.
In one instance, Danko purportedly wore the student's hooded sweatshirt bearing his last name as he participated in an athletics contest during November, according to police.
After the game, Danko approached the student and embraced him as he was leaving the field, Manko told police.
“Witnesses said they were caught off guard and found that as odd,” Christner said of the alleged embrace.
Rostraver police were alerted about the alleged relationship and incidents Feb. 18 by Ringgold district police Chief Clayton Shell.
When police interviewed the alleged victim Feb. 19, he purportedly said the relationship began when he sought help from Danko for girl problems not long after the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
“He indicated to us that he would talk to her almost every day and frequently exchanged text messages after she gave him her phone number,” Rostraver police Chief Greg Resetar said at the press conference.
“In late September or early October, text messages started to become intimate in nature, and she started to confide in the student and build trust by disclosing her personal problems.”
The student allegedly told police Danko told him he was “attractive” and “that's when things started to heat up,” according to court documents.
The student maintained that Danko would tell him she wanted to “cuddle.”
The relationship reached another level on Oct. 29 when Danko held the student's hand and rubbed his thigh as she drove him from a parade in Monongahela to the high school, police said.
Danko then allegedly texted a picture of herself in lingerie and told him to delete it when he received it, police said. That's when the two began planning to meet outside of school and agreed upon the park-and-ride site, police said.
Danko allegedly told the victim they could be together and have their own place after he graduated.
In February, Ringgold Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla confirmed to The Valley Independent that district officials were investigating purported “inappropriate contact” between an employee and a high school student and called the issue “a personnel matter.”
In a statement to parents on the district website, Polkabla said the employee had been removed from district property and was ordered to have no contact with students.
On Feb. 26 during a special meeting, the Ringgold School Board accepted Danko's resignation “under terms discussed in executive session.”
Polkabla declined to specify the terms to a Valley Independent reporter. Solicitor Tim Berggren said it was district policy not to comment on personnel matters.
Resetar said the victim has cooperated with police throughout the investigation and that even though he was 18, the fact remains that he was a student.
“She was in a position of power, authority and supervision,” Resetar said. “It's inappropriate for any teacher, guidance counselor … anyone to overstep that boundary. Age does not matter.”
Any incidents that occurred in the Monongahela or Carroll areas, where Ringgold High School is located, would become part of the Rostraver case, Resetar said.
Danko was transported from the Rostraver police station to Magisterial District Judge Joseph Dalfonso's office in Monessen, where she was arraigned.
Danko was met there by her mother, grandfather and attorney David Shrager of Pittsburgh.
During her arraignment, Danko said nothing other than to confirm her phone number and address to the judge.
Shrager argued that she should be released on her own recognizance, that she didn't have a criminal record, has lived in the Mon Valley her entire life and does not pose a flight risk.
Dalfonso set bond at $50,000 cash, with 10 percent acceptable.
Dalfonso ordered Danko to have no contact with the alleged victim.
At that point, her mother had a checkbook out and was prepared to post her daughter's bond. She went to the bank to get the necessary cash.
Danko is scheduled to appear before Dalfonso at 10:45 a.m. May 29 for a preliminary hearing.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 724-684-2635. Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 724-684-2667.