The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation into reports that a Centralia High School teacher inappropriately touched a student last year on at least one occasion, according to records obtained by The Chronicle.
The case was sent to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office for review Tuesday afternoon.
The Centralia School District has placed the teacher on administrative leave, according to a letter dated Sept. 12, while the district “investigates concerns regarding inappropriate conduct."
“More information regarding the specifics of these allegations will be shared with you at a later date and prior to an investigative conference,” according to the letter, obtained by The Chronicle through a public records request last week. “... Administrative leave is an employer-directed removal from the workplace for a period of time while an investigation is pending and/or until discipline is imposed. Administrative leave itself is not disciplinary. You will continue to be paid while on leave and will retain all legal and contractual rights to contest any discipline that might ultimately be imposed.”
The district is still working to fill The Chronicle’s full records request. It expects to complete disclosure by Oct. 31 for “any communication regarding [the suspect], or any reports of impropriety or complaints against a teacher.”
Centralia High School Principal Josue Lowe contacted the Centralia Police Department on Sept. 10 after a woman reported that the teacher had allegedly had “sexual contact of sort with a during the last school year,” according to records The Chronicle obtained from the Centralia Police Department.
The Centralia Police Department took the initial report. However, the alleged incident happened within the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction.
A report from sheriff’s office indicates the alleged victim was a foreign exchange student, who lived with the accused teacher and his wife in the 2017-18 school year. The student recently returned to the United States for college and visited the woman who reported the alleged incident.
The Chronicle does not name suspects in criminal investigations who have not been formally charged or arrested, or alleged victims of sexual assault or misconduct. The Chronicle is also not naming the woman who reported the allegations at this time to avoid inadvertently also naming the suspect.
The report from the Centralia Police Department outlines two alleged incidents.
“According to (the woman), (the student) stated that one time while he and (the suspect) were at their house … (the suspect) placed his hand on the crotch of (the student) as they were sitting around on the couch,” the report states. “(Redacted) removed his hand but it is unknown what if anything was communicated between the two.”
It is unclear from the records if the student or the suspect removed the suspect’s hand. The police report detailed a second alleged incident from that school year, as well.
“Another time they were at a select basketball game out of the area and (the student) was lying in bed with just his underwear on,” reads the report from Centralia Police Department. “It was at this point that (the suspect) climbed into bed with (the student) and attempted touching him. (student) advised (the woman) that he jumped out of bed and began screaming at (the suspect) and said he was not ‘into that.’”
According to the report from sheriff’s office, a detective contacted the alleged victim on Sept. 11. The following day, on Sept. 12, the alleged victim said that “what he told (the woman) was in confidence and did not think about her position and the school’s position. (The student) further told (the detective) that he did not want to press any changes or take any legal actions.”
“I truly believe he wouldn’t do this with any other student and this only happened because it was me,” the alleged victim said, according to the report from sheriff’s office.
The alleged victim went on to say, according to the report from sheriff’s office, that at the time it felt like “horseplay.”
“Only later when (the student) had learned that (the suspect) had ‘come out’ as a bisexual that he looked back and found this to possibly have been something different,” the report reads.
The case was documented as “information-only” at the time, according to the report from sheriff’s office. The detective requested the case be cleared as information only, at that time.
The sheriff’s office sent the case to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office for review on Tuesday afternoon, Lewis County Special Services Chief Dusty Breen confirmed in an email on Wednesday.
“Cases that get sent out as review if they are listed as ‘review only,’” said Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “It’s kind of a lead in to the police don’t think there is enough to file criminal charges, but they want my office to look at it.”
Meyer said the next step is for his office to review the case. At that point, he can decline to file charges because there isn’t enough evidence to base a charge, choose to charge the case or ask for further investigation.
Although the student was a senior in high school when the alleged incidents took place, it is unclear how old the student was at the time of the incidents. Sexual misconduct with a minor in the second degree is a gross misdemeanor, according to RCW 9A.44.096.
“A person is guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor in the second degree when … the person is a school employee who has, or knowingly causes another person under the age of eighteen to have, sexual contact with an enrolled student of the school who is at least sixteen years old and not more than twenty-one years old and not married to the employee,” according to the RCW.
Meyer said on Mondayhe didn’t know yet how that statute applies to this case, since it is ongoing.
“Obviously we are not going to make any type of prejudgement until the case is completed,” Meyer said. “But from the initial read, it would not be a felony.”
Meanwhile, the Centralia School District is conducting its own investigation into the claims. Superintendent Mark Davalos said district investigations into sexual misconduct claims could take anywhere from a day to months. Davalos also noted that the district is not involved in selecting host families for foreign exchange students.