Ex-Riverton High teacher gets probation, fines in sex abuse case

Published: Tuesday, April 8 2014 12:10 p.m. MDT

WEST JORDAN — The judge said he "struggled mightily" with what to do with former Riverton High School teacher Courtney Jarrell.

On the one hand, she was a teacher who became sexually involved with a student and 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck said that alone called for punishment. On the other hand, everyone in the case — including prosecutors and the victim — were asking for a sentence of probation without any time behind bars.

"Everyone involved seems to think there should be no jail," he said Tuesday. "I've gone back and forth and back and forth I won't say how many times, because still and all … you were a teacher and she was a student. It's been very troubling."

Ultimately, the judge sentenced the 23-year-old woman to 18 months' probation, 100 hours of community service and a $900 fine. He sentenced her to one year of jail on each of three counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, but suspended the jail time.

The victim testified in August that she met Jarrell, who was also a basketball coach at the school, at an open gym for potential basketball players. She didn't end up on Jarrell's team, but said the two had a player-coach relationship and she frequented Jarrell's classroom.

She said Jarrell wrote her a note conveying that she had feelings for the then-17-year-old and that the two exchanged phone numbers. She testified that she later went to Jarrell's apartment and that while Jarrell initially told them they should wait until the girl was 18, their contact eventually escalated to sex.

The girl was at the sentencing hearing Tuesday, but did not make any comment. Prosecutor Tyson Hamilton said both the girl and her family had long felt the resolution, and lack of jail time, was appropriate.

Hamilton said that while a Utah Supreme Court decision affected the case — by requiring that prosecutors show that a "position of special trust" was used to exercise undue influence — it did not change the facts of the case. Prosecutors did not believe they could show Jarrell used that position because she was neither the girl's teacher nor coach.

"We don't always see someone take responsibility, it's typical to see some minimization," Hamilton said. "I was impressed by the defendant's statement (in a pre-sentence report) that she doesn't minimize anything, doesn't shift any of the blame onto the victim. She took full responsibility for what happened and apologized to the victim and her parents."

Defense attorney Ken Brown said his client has been ostracized by friends and lost her ability to ever teach again. He reiterated that Jarrell was the one who initially suggested that she and the victim wait until the girl was 18.

"Ms. Jarrell is a good person and, as I indicated throughout this case, she fell in love with a student," he said. "I don't think she was abusing anyone's trust."

She was originally charged with object rape, a first-degree felony, and forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. The plea to misdemeanor counts allowed Jarrell to avoid having to register as a sex offender.

The judge said he understood that Jarrell had no criminal history and was by all other accounts a good person, but reinforced that she violated the trust given her as a teacher. He asked Jarrell why she shouldn't have to spend some time in jail.

"As you already know, I've lost my teaching license and that was something that I worked really hard for and I've been punished throughout the year with different things," Jarrell replied, crying. "I'll never be in a school again like that. I don't even know if I can go on field trips with my nieces' or nephews' or kids' schools and that's really hard for me. I feel like it was a big deal for me to lose that."

She told the judge she was "just ready for it to be over."

Lubeck said he grappled with whether to put more weight on general deterrence or on the specifics of this case. He said society demands that a child in school be protected and not be seen as romantic objects.

"Ought Ms. Jarrell be an example of what happens if you break that trust that people inherently have?" he asked. "That people are going to take care of my kids there and not, as (Hamilton) said, include them in the dating pool? What does that say to other teachers who also have a romantic relationship? Is it going to accomplish anything if Ms. Jarrell doesn't serve any jail time?"

He finally determined that most teachers are not out there "wondering if I can get away with it."

A tearful Jarrell hugged her family after the hearing.

"(We are) just happy that it's over and happy with the result," Brown said

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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