Attention, pervs who work in Texas school districts: A recent Court of Criminal Appeals ruling helps clear up confusion over who's allowed to have sex with students.
Issued Wednesday, the ruling was good news for a former Conroe Independent School District police sergeant who had received ten years of probation in 2013 after starting a sexual relationship with a male senior at Caney Creek High School.
Chris Sutton, 40, had worked at The Woodlands High School, and met the student when he was "a young boy," according to the state's brief, which contended that Sutton "developed a paternal-like bond" with the boy. Sutton then contacted the boy through Grindr, a dating app, and the two began having sex "about two weeks before" the student's 18th birthday. (They had sexual contact "at least fives time between August 2012 and February 2013," according to the Conroe Courier.) The age of consent in Texas is 17.
Sutton was convicted under a statute barring a sexual relationship with "a person who is enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school at which the employee works."
Montgomery County prosecutors argued that, as a sergeant, Sutton supervised officers who worked throughout the district, and that he held a position of authority over the student — most notably via involvement in a student-outreach program Sutton coordinated called Kid Chat, whose meetings the student attended.
But the Ninth Court of Appeals later overturned Sutton's conviction, ruling that because Sutton was an employee of the Conroe ISD Police Department, and not Caney Creek High School, he did not violate the statute.
State prosecutors argued that the spirit of the statute calls for school district employees to not have sex with students, regardless of whether they're on the same campus:
"Under the Ninth Court of Appeals' interpretation, virtually none of the public school employees in the state would be subject to prosecution...The evidence at trial established that all school employees, district-wide, are paid by the district and are officially considered to be employees of the district — not any particular school...Even a teacher who maintains a classroom and spends the overwhelming majority of his or her working hours at a particular school is officially considered to be an employee of the district."
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But the appeals court agreed with the Ninth Circuit, ruling that Sutton's position was too far removed from the student's for it to be a clear breach of the law, ruling that, if Sutton "had been assigned to [Caney Creek High School] or its feeder system," it would have been a "closer call."
The appeals court ruled the statute applies to two scenarios: school employees engaging in an improper relationship with a student at the same school; or a broader class of district employees listed in the Texas Education Code. District police officers are not included in that list.
Sutton's appellate attorney, Chris Allen, told the Courier that "his client suffered major setbacks after devoting his entire life to policing and may never be able to work in law enforcement again."
Well, maybe he didn't devote his entire life to policing the mean
streets hallways — at least a few days were devoted to banging a student in his district whom he'd known since the boy was a child.