A judge sentenced a former teacher's aide at Black Hills High School in Tumwater to nine months in jail Monday for having sex with a former student she once supervised in detention.
The former BHHS para-educator, Courtney Keller, 29, pleaded guilty in April to four counts of first-degree sexual misconduct with the boy. Keller's relationship with him began when he was 16.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Skinder said in court that it's possible the general public may not take cases involving a female defendant and a male sex abuse victim as seriously as it does when the genders are reversed.
But it shouldn't, because there is no doubt Keller's male victim was seriously emotionally damaged by her behavior, Skinder said.
"Her actions had a huge detrimental impact on his life," Skinder said.
The victim was not present in court for Monday's sentencing. "He just wants this to be over and to not happen to anybody else," Skinder said.
Skinder said Keller betrayed the boy's trust and provided him with drugs and alcohol during their relationship.
Last year, the Tumwater School District's insurer agreed to pay Keller's victim $300,000 to avoid a civil lawsuit. The former student's attorney, G. Saxon Rodgers, has said that Keller's victim dropped out of Black Hills in 2012, during his senior year.
In May, 2013, Keller's aunt, former Black Hills assistant principal Darice Bales, resigned from her job at the high school. At the time of Bales' resignation, the Tumwater School District was investigating the allegations of sexual misconduct by Keller at the school, and the school's response to those allegations.
During Keller's sentencing hearing Monday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon gave Keller a suspended five-year prison sentence as part of her Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative, or SSOSA. Dixon also required her to complete nine months of jail time, in general population.
Keller was eligible to complete her nine months of jail time on work release, but she has been unable to find a job, her attorney, George Steele said.
During her SSOSA, Keller must complete sex offender treatment after her nine month jail sentence is completed. If she re-offends or fails to comply with her treatment during the SSOSA, Dixon can impose the five-year suspended sentence.
Tumwater police arrested Keller in April, 2013, based on a former student's disclosure that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with Keller while he was attending Black Hills High School, and that the relationship progressed to sex over time. Keller was married when she began her sexual relationship with the boy.
Steele said in court that Keller's mental health evaluation showed numerous issues, including that she viewed herself as a peer of the juveniles she was supposed to be teaching in school, not as an adult.
"Frankly, she needs to grow up," Steele said.
According to court papers, the student told Tuwmater police that his relationship with his "detention lady" progressed from flirting, to making out, to sex. Starting the student's junior year at Black Hills, she began providing him with "tobacco and painkillers" including Vicodin and Percoset, court papers state.
The student told police that Keller once accompanied him to a party at a fellow student's home. He also showed them text messages that were "sexual in nature" and referenced a past sexual relationship, court papers state.
Keller, whose arms and legs were bound in shackles during Monday's hearing, apologized to the court.
"I do apologize for what happened," she said. "It's something I shouldn't have allowed to happen."
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445; firstname.lastname@example.org