Update (Friday): Authorities say the 16-year-old Northside High School student a teacher allegedly propositioned has been bullied by other students who’ve learned she’s the accuser.
The Muscogee County School District has a policy against bullying, but school officials said the student has not been harassed at the 2002 American Way school, so any bullying has to have occurred off campus.
Today Northside language arts teacher Tucker Hearn waived his preliminary hearing in Columbus Recorder’s Court and was released on his own recognizance with a $10,000 bond.
His attorney, Stacey Jackson, said that means Hearn needed no cash or collateral for the bond, but would have to pay $10,000 if he failed to attend court.
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The case now goes to Muscogee Superior Court. It has been assigned to Assistant District Attorney Letitia Sikes.
Sikes said other students were bullying the girl.
Kyle Bair, executive director of Columbus’ Sexual Assault Support Center, said this “blame the victim” mentality is not uncommon in cases involving popular teachers. She knows this case has generated strong emotions.
“I do know there is a lot of talk, and there is a lot of victim-blaming,” Bair said.
The center has a hotline for victims to call if they need help. It’s 706-571-6010.
Authorities said Hearn, 37, is accused of sending the girl inappropriate messages through a school computer network. Sikes called the language Hearn used “egregious,” and said the teacher tried to arrange a meeting with the student before school started.
Jackson refused to comment on the details of the accusation. Hearn would not speak to reporters who met him Friday as he left the Muscogee County Jail.
Hearn also worked as a part-time freshman composition instructor at Columbus State University. A CSU spokesman said he is on paid administrative leave from the university as his case winds through the courts.
Asked about his employment status with the school district, communications director Valerie Fuller said only: “The personnel matter is being handled according to state law.” Hearn has been working at Northside since 2002, she said.
Of the reported bullying, Fuller wrote in an email: “If there are any reports of bullying to the school administrators, each reported incident of bullying behavior would be documented and investigated by the school principal or designee and/or school security.”
A Columbus police report said Hearn’s exchange of computer text messages with the student occurred between 3 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Wednesday. Wednesday morning Kathy Tessin, the school district’s chief of human resources, told detectives Northside Principal James Wilson got a copy of “chat” messages between the student and teacher.
Police said Hearn engaged in explicit, sexual conversations with the student, and admitted to the allegations after he was informed of his rights. Officers arrested him at 1:10 p.m. Wednesday.
He is charged with attempted sexual assault on “a person in custody,” meaning someone over whom he has authority. The Georgia law prohibiting such sexual contact reads in part: “A person who has supervisory or disciplinary authority over another individual commits sexual assault when that person is a teacher, principal, assistant principal, or other administrator of any school and engages in sexual contact with such other individual who the actor knew or should have known is enrolled at the same school.”
The law further states: “A person convicted of sexual assault shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than 25 years or by a fine not to exceed $100,000 or both. ”
If the offense is attempted but not completed, the maximum penalty is reduced by half, Sikes said. Related stories: