Alleged sex at Basalt school led to police investigation
A teacher and student from Basalt High School who were in a sexual relationship drew attention to themselves while allegedly having sex in the bathroom of the teacher’s office Thursday, Feb. 9, according to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
The athletic director of the school allegedly interrupted the encounter when he knocked on the bathroom door, said an affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant. Teacher Lauren Redfern came out of the bathroom and exited the office with the athletic director while the student stayed behind, the affidavit said.
“School administrators confronted the student who told them that he had sex with the teacher in the bathroom,” the affidavit continued. The document, which was filed in Eagle County District Court, didn’t make it clear if the student was questioned by school administrators on Thursday or Friday. Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said she believed the incident occurred late in the day on Feb. 9 and that district administrators began investigating the morning of Feb. 10.
The Basalt Police Department was contacted Feb. 10 by the school and an officer reported the incident to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office that same morning.
An investigation by the sheriff’s office determined that Redfern and the student had sex an undetermined number of times since last fall, before the student turned 18 years of age. Their relationship continued after he turned 18 earlier this year, according to the affidavit.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office stated Wednesday that Redfern’s age was 25. The office corrected that statement Thursday, saying Redfern turned 26 on Sunday.
Redfern was formally charged Thursday with two counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, pattern of abuse. That is a class-three felony. Two counts were filed to reflect two alleged sexual encounters when the student was 17 years old, said 5th Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert.
A warrant was issued for Redfern’s arrest earlier this week. She turned herself in at the Eagle County Jail Thursday morning, with her father Tom Redfern accompanying her, authorities said. Lauren Redfern was taken into custody and a bond hearing was held at 12:30 p.m. in Eagle. She entered court wearing leg shackles along with black sweat pants and a black T-shirt.
Redfern was represented in the hearing by Aspen attorney Charles Fagan. In the brief hearing, Eagle County Court Judge Katherine Sullivan set bond at $5,000. She said she was lowering the standard amount of bond in a sexual abuse on a child case because she didn’t feel Redfern was a flight risk, citing her strong ties to the Roaring Fork Valley. The standard bond for a sexual assault on a child case is $15,000, according to officials with the sheriff’s office.
While setting bond, Sullivan stressed that Redfern must avoid the victim in the case. “There is to be no contact. Do you understand that?” she asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Redfern replied. Redfern posted bond at about 4 p.m. and was able to leave the jail.
Redfern is a 2004 graduate of Basalt High School. She is the head coach of the girls’ basketball team and a full-time teacher of health and strength conditioning, according to the arrest affidavit. Redfern also told investigators she oversees a study hall.
Eagle County Sheriff’s Office officials said Wednesday that no sex acts occurred at the school. Undersheriff Mike McWilliam clarified Thursday that no unlawful sex act occurred at the high school. Once the male student turned 18 years old, it was not illegal for him and the teacher to have sex at the school or anywhere else, McWilliam said. Therefore, the Feb. 9 incident didn’t constitute a crime, he said. That is the only time investigators suspect Redfern and the student engaged in sex at the high school.
The investigation and the arrest focused only on the alleged sex acts that occurred when the student was 17. The alleged encounters occurred at the homes of the teacher and the student, who both live in unincorporated Eagle County. Therefore, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office rather than the Basalt Police Department had jurisdiction.
Both Redfern and the student cooperated with detectives and were interviewed about their relationship.
Redfern told the detective that she and the student started sending each other complimentary text messages in October or November 2011. “She told Deputy Edstrom that in late December around Christmas time they both felt attracted to one another,” the affidavit said. Redfern told a deputy the first time they were together was at the student’s house to watch a movie. They began kissing and fondling one another with their clothes on and nothing more happened.
Two weeks later, Redfern told investigators, the student called to ask Redfern for help editing a school paper. He came to her house, worked on the paper then they engaged in sexual intercourse, according to the affidavit.
“Redfern said this was just prior to [the student] turning 18 years old,” the affidavit said.
The age is critical to the case, McWilliam said, because a sexual relationship between a teacher and student 18 years old isn’t illegal, although it violates school policies. McWilliam said it was his understanding the student turned 18 in January. The student’s name and date of birth haven’t been released by the sheriff’s office because he was a minor when the alleged sexual assaults occurred.
The Roaring Fork School District placed Redfern on paid leave Feb. 10. “Now that charges have been filed, action on Ms. Redfern’s employment will be recommended to the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education at their meeting on February 22,” said a statement released Thursday by Haptonstall.
The school’s policy states that any teacher that has sexual contact with a student will have their employment terminated.
In her interview with a deputy, Redfern said she and the student have had sex five to seven times after their initial encounter, with some of the times after he turned 18.
“Redfern told Deputy Edstrom that she and [the student] both care about each other and developed a relationship that was never intended,” the affidavit said.
Student said he pursued Redfern
The student met with investigators at the sheriff’s office substation in El Jebel and told them he pursued Redfern romantically. He said they met two years ago and shared an interest in athletics and they worked out at the same gym. The student said Redfern was his study hall teacher.
The student said they got together several times starting in October and engaged in fondling, which advanced to sexual intercourse “about three times” in November and December, before he was 18. Their sexual relationship continued after he turned 18, according to his interview. He told deputies he believes he fell in love with Redfern.
“[The student] explained that Redfern had no bearing on any of his grades or status within Basalt High School,” the affidavit said. “[The student] said that he never felt like he had to develop the relationship or continue it in exchange for any benefit or status.”
Both Redfern and the student said they decided after “the bathroom incident” on Feb. 9 to discontinue their relationship until after the student graduated. They had little choice since the criminal investigation began the next day.
Hurlbert said the case is in the early stages and there is still a lot of information for his staff to sift through, so he was reluctant to offer many comments. When asked if it makes a difference if the student said he pursued the teacher, Hurlbert said all mitigating and aggravating circumstances will be examined when talking about possible plea bargains or during sentencing.
The penalty on each charge is a minimum of 4 to 16 years in prison, with the possibility of life in prison for the repeated nature of the alleged sexual assaults, he said.
Redfern’s next hearing is March 6.
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