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SBI charges former Louisburg football coach

January 18, 2009
North Carolina



By Carey Johnson
Franklin Times

LOUISBURG
- Agents with the state Bureau of Investigation and the Louisburg Police Department arrested a former Louisburg High School teacher and coach charged with having a sexual relationship with a student.

James Collier, 40, was charged Thursday afternoon with first-degree sex offense of a student and indecent liberties with a student.

Both are felonies relating to sex between a teacher and student where consent is not a defense.

Collier appeared before magistrate Jerry Frazier on Thursday and posted a $5,000 cash bond before leaving.

He declined comment for this story.

Louisburg Police Chief Rick Lassiter said through interviews and evidence gathering, police were able to determine probable cause to make the arrest.

"We gathered information through all different means," said Lassiter. "We interviewed people that established (probable cause) and we also recovered actual communications (between Collier and the student)."

Police would not say what kinds of communications were recovered.

Louisburg Police Capt. Jason Abbott said Collier declined comment during a police interview and the girl, 17, has yet to be interviewed.

Police interviewed the girl's parents, but nothing gleaned from that interview established probable cause, Abbott said.

"The investigation remains on-going," Abbott said.

Collier's arrest jolted those in the school community.

"I'm kind of at a loss," said School Board Chairman Paige Sayles. "To say I'm disappointed that anything like this would happen is a gross understatement."

Superintendent Bert L'Homme echoed that sentiment.

"I'm so incredibly disappointed," L'Homme said. "The message we want to give to parents and teachers is that Louisburg High is a great school.

"It has great teachers and administrators, and we'll continue to do everything humanly possible to help their children."

Principal Freda Clifton said Collier's arrest has shaken the school's spirit.

"I've only been here for a short time, but like anyone else in this community, to see this is disheartening," Clifton said.

The school did host exams this week, but Clifton said students were not distracted.

"Our students have been focused," she said. "Their scores have been fairly well."

Law enforcement agents began their investigation following a telephone conversation on Jan. 2 and a follow up letter provided by School System Attorney Boyd Sturges two days later.

In that letter, Sturges said the matter was brought to the attention of school officials on Dec. 31, after the girl's mother approached a school employee within the Human Resources Department.

Sturges said the matter was brought before the school system in an appropriate way to warrant their investigation and subsequent notification to police.

The girl's mother alleged that Collier was having a sexual relationship with her daughter.

School system officials, citing student and personnel privacy concerns, would not say how long the relationship is alleged to have occurred or when it was first brought to their attention.

According to the arrest warrant, the dates of the offenses go back to August and through the New Year.

Collier resigned without explanation in early December, agreeing to work through the Christmas break.

His last official day was Jan. 4 - a day before school began this year.

"I feel that we took all the steps we could with this case," Sayles said. "We did the right thing."

She said accusations that the school system let Collier resign, hoping the matter would be quietly resolved are false.

"Anytime allegations or rumors are made, we investigate," Sayles said. "I firmly believe we did everything we could.

"... I feel that we did what we were supposed to do and did it when we were supposed to do it," she said. "I know there have been rumors of cover-up, and they are untrue.

"It's an impossible thing to hide," she said. "We did things the way we were supposed to.

"I believe with all my heart there was no cover-up," she said. "There was no reason for us not to take action."

Lassiter said the police don't believe there was a cover-up, either.

"Right now, we're still interviewing people within the school system," he said of the department's and SBI's continuing investigation.

"We don't really think we're going to run into anyone who knew it was going on," he said. "We feel (Collier) was very elusive in his activity.

"I don't think we will find anyone who knew about it.

"(But if we do), we'll have to sit down with the district attorney about criminal charges," Lassiter said.

Still, investigators said the scope of their investigation will broaden to include school personnel during this school year and last school year.

That would include former school Principal Chris Blice, who announced his resignation in July to take a similar role with Northwood High in Chatham County.

Attempts to reach Blice were not successful before press time.

The state Board of Education has yet to take any action regarding Collier's teaching license, but the Franklin County school system did provide the state with a formal alert on Wednesday, notifying them that an investigation has begun into the alleged crimes.

Department of Public Instruction spokesperson Vanessa Jeter said Collier's teaching license would not be flagged with the alert unless the state's resulting investigation warranted action against his license - meaning a cursory check of his license status would not reveal that an investigation is under way.

The state has such a policy, DPI spokesperson Lynda Fuller said, to protect those who have only been charged or alleged to have committed an inappropriate act.

However, potential employers could gather such information from a direct call to DPI or through human resources contacts at the applicant's previous employer.

Collier has a teacher application on file in the Wake County school system. Until an action, such as suspension or revocation of a license, Collier can be hired as a teacher.

He could also be hired as a substitute teacher, which does not require a teacher's license.

"If (an employer) calls DPI and says I don't see anything in the database (negative about a teacher's license) do they have any pending allegations? Our attorneys could answer yes or no.

"If a potential employer calls a former employer, that person is bound by ethics to tell about an alert.

"They have an obligation," Fuller said. "If they don't, their license can be affected."

The parents of the girl in question have declined comment.

Collier is slated to appear in Franklin County District Court on Jan. 27 for a first appearance.

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