Charges against Colorado school principal dismissed in teenage sexting case

A district judge in eastern Colorado on Wednesday dismissed charges against a high school principal who faced up to 12 years in prison after he investigated a tip about students engaging in sexting and closed an unusual case that divided the town of Brush .

Bradley Bass, 32, acted in good faith, “albeit misguided to be sure,” when he found pictures on several students’ cellphones and saved them as evidence on his work cellphone, wrote Morgan County District Court Judge Charles M. Hobbs , in his judgment .

While Bass broke Colorado law by simply keeping the images, Hobbs ruled that there was “no evidence of fraud or concealment” when he notified law enforcement about the images. He also wrote that Bass had “no improper motive.”

There is no evidence Bass viewed the images after storing them in a confidential file on the school’s computer system, the judge wrote.

While those precautions constituted no defense against the charges against Bass, they did offer “good faith” evidence that he believed he was doing his job, the judge ruled.

In September, Hobbs filed charges against Bass’ co-defendant and supervisor Scott Hodgson, finding that the administrator had acted in good faith and thought he was complying with district policies.


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Colorado does not have mandatory school sexting investigation training. Educators face jail time if they do anything wrong.

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No one had ever accused Bass of malicious intent, but under Colorado law, knowing possession of an explicit image of a child is child pornography, regardless of intent. Investigating law enforcement officers are one of the few exceptions to the rule.

The judge’s decision to dismiss prosecutors’ “misguided allegations” came as no surprise, said Bass’ attorney Michael Faye.

Still, the false allegations by police and prosecutors have tarnished Bass’s reputation and created a stigma that the principal will carry for the rest of his life, Faye said, calling her actions “the most egregious abuse of prosecution discretion” he has encountered his have seen 20 years of legal practice.

“The level of prosecutorial incompetence in the thirteenth judicial circuit is truly remarkable and quite concerning,” Faye said Wednesday.

But 13th District Attorney Travis Sides said the judge’s finding that Bass violated state law by keeping the images supported his action to press charges against the school administrator.

“By the judge’s own decision, he admits that our charges were valid and legally reasonable,” Sides told The Colorado Sun.

He contradicted the judge that Bass acted in good faith, saying he didn’t think Bass had the right to keep the teenage nude photos on his phone indefinitely.

“From the beginning, and it still annoys me to this day, we had a school administrator who knowingly saved nude photos of a teenage student on his phone. In other words, he could call up that image whenever he wanted, any time of the day or night,” Sides said.

In his ruling, Hobbs acknowledged that the images remained on Bass’s phone after he uploaded them to the school’s server, but said none of the testimonies indicated any illegal intent.

About a month after the photos were uploaded to the server, Bass testified in court that he realized he hadn’t deleted the photos from his work phone. He informed police and gave law enforcement both his personal and work phones and passwords for the day.

Bass testified that no one had access to his work phone during that period. A forensic analysis requested by police revealed that no information about the case was found on Bass’s personal phone or computer, and that the photos on the school server were not accessed after Bass placed them there.

The parents of the girl pictured in the pictures have supported Bass in handling the case and said they deny the charges.

Sides said he has no intention of appealing the verdict.

The judge’s findings closed a case that drew national attention regarding school sexting, a growing trend in high schools across the United States, with legal risks for anyone who possesses, shares or mishandles the images.

Colorado has no mandatory training to investigate school sexting. But if a judge found Bass broke the law, he could have been branded a sex offender.

Some states, including Colorado, have laws that say teens who have consensual sex should not be prosecuted. But few, if any, states make exceptions for adults who possess the nude photos without malicious intent. And experts say few, if any, states require teachers and administrators to receive training about the legal liability they might face if they investigate a report of sexting.


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