A Centralia High School teacher accused of having sexual contact with a student will not face charges — though the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office believes a crime occurred — due to the alleged victim’s unwillingness to cooperate.
“If needed, I could force the issue, but obviously that creates a very different dynamic,” said Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “If there was another victim that came forward, I would ask law enforcement to go back and talk to (the first alleged victim) again.”
The Centralia School District is still conducting its own investigation. Centralia School District Superintendent Mark Davalos did not make himself available for comment on Friday. Ed Petersen, who is the public relations and communications coordinator for the district, responded by email to The Chronicle’s interview request.
“... (O)ur investigation is independent of the Prosecutor's office and it's still ongoing,” Petersen wrote. “We generally don’t comment on ongoing investigations and we don’t have any new information to share at this time.”
Meyer officially declined to file charges through a letter dated Oct. 5, after the the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office sent the case to his office for review.
“... I have reviewed the reports submitted in this matter,” wrote Meyer in the decline letter obtained by The Chronicle. “I have also reviewed the letter submitted by a private investigator retained by the suspect’s attorney. Both submissions clearly indicate there was sexual contact.”
The Chronicle obtained incident reports from both the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and the Centralia Police Department that said there were two alleged incidents of sexual contact. Meyer declined to file charges against the teacher after the alleged victim in the case was unwilling to provide a taped statement.
A woman reported on Oct. 10 that the teacher allegedly had “sexual contact of sort with (the student) during the last school year,” according to the Centralia Police Department’s incident report. A report from the sheriff’s office indicates the student was a foreign exchange student, who lived with the accused teacher and his wife in the 2017-18 school year.
“... Although the victim attempts to minimize the contact in both submissions, sexual contact is clearly defined in RCW 9A.44.010(2),” Meyer wrote. “Based upon the allegations and the applicable law, it appears a crime likely occurred under RCW 9A.44.096. However, the victim has declined to cooperate further in any criminal proceeding.”
Sexual contact is defined in RCW 9A.44.010(2) as “any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party or a third party.”
RCW 9A.44.096, or sexual misconduct with a minor in the second degree, is a gross misdemeanor.
Meyer said that while it isn’t “completely normal” for an alleged victim to refuse to cooperate, it isn’t unusual, either.
“They don’t want to face public embarrassment, or in a situation like this, they don’t think it is as bad as the law does, or as other people do,” Meyer said.
Meyer said that while evidence in this case could potentially be used in another case, it would depend on the allegations.
“In theory (the prosecutor) can force the issue,” Meyer said. “I can’t force (a victim) necessarily to get them up on the stand and tell me what happened. I can try to coerce them, but if they stick to ‘I’m not going to tell you’ there are only certain things the court can do to force the issue.”
Meyer told The Chronicle on Friday that he does not want to “re-victimize the victim.”
“... Although not dispositive, the state is, at this time, going to respect the victim’s desires to not participate,” Meyer wrote. “As a result, no charges will be filed. … Of course, if the victim decides to cooperate in the future, or if new or additional evidence is discovered, the state will certainly consider any additional submissions and review its charging decision. However, the victim is unwilling to provide a taped statement which indicates an unwillingness to participate in a criminal trial.”
The teacher is currently on paid administrative leave. The Chronicle submitted a public records request to Centralia School District for “any communication regarding [the suspect], or any reports of impropriety or complaints against a teacher,” which the district is still working to fill. It expects to complete the request by Oct. 31.