Teen details teacher's sexual advances - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 1:40 pm
Teen details teacher's sexual advances

Twenty five thousand.

That's how many times a former OPS middle-school teacher and one underage girl phoned and texted each other in a year.

An average of more than 2,000 contacts a month, 70 a day.

The student, age 14 and 15 over that time period, initially told police that Shad Knutson was tutoring her.

However, prosecutors say the former Nathan Hale Middle School social studies teacher was grooming her into an inappropriate relationship. And, they allege, he had inappropriate sexual contact with three other girls.

As opening statements got under way Wednesday in Knutson's trial, Chief Deputy Douglas County Attorney Brenda Beadle said Knutson used everything — from the promise of good grades to the threat of discipline to the lie that he had brain cancer — to forge inappropriate relationships with four girls, ages 13 to 15.

In a case that drew questions about why OPS administrators failed to act on some of the girls' reports, Knutson, 36, faces seven felonies: attempted first-degree sexual assault, soliciting a child by use of a communication device, two counts of child abuse and three counts of third-degree sexual assault by touching.

"This case is about the abuse of power and authority of a teacher," Beadle said. "It's about the failure of a system to stop it. And the strength and courage of four young girls to come forward."

The trial became heated from the outset as Beadle and Knutson's attorney, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley, sparred over what one of the girls would say at trial.

"This case is going to be contentious," Riley said.

"Objection," Beadle said.

"Exhibit A," Riley said, jabbing a thumb in Beadle's direction.

Riley painted his client as a caring teacher who went above and beyond the call. He let the kids play games in his class, listen to music and often horsed around with them.

"Was his approach, foolish, naive a little over the line? Perhaps," Riley said. "Is he a criminal? He's not.

"There is no sexual abuse involved in these events. None."

Beadle outlined events that had the jury of three men and nine women spellbound.

A girl, who just turned 14, came forward in October 2010. She told of how Knutson was known as the cool teacher who gave out candy and compliments in equal measure. She was just 13 when he started paying her attention.

"He told me he was going to be my favorite," the girl testified. "He was known as the cool teacher. Everybody wanted to have his class."

"He'd say things like 'You're pretty. You're sexy,' " she said. "Then he'd say, I shouldn't
be saying those things so don't tell anyone."

Eventually, the 13-year-old girl said, he started telling her about his sex life, including with another teacher.

One time, the girl noticed that Knutson's zipper was down. She told him.

His response?

"If you ever want to see it, just ask," Knutson said, according to the girl.

In October 2010, he brushed against her breast. She thought it was an accident. Then he did it again, she said, running his hand along both breasts.

"He looked at me and smiled," she said, her voice breaking.

She went to administrators — and eventually found out that two of her schoolmates had complained about Knutson in previous months. One of those girls said Knutson brushed against her breasts while putting football shoulder pads on her.

She said he exposed himself in the school hallway. He asked another girl to flash him.

And eventually, police used Knutson's cell phone records to track down the girl he had exchanged 25,000 phone messages with.

That girl will testify to a much deeper relationship, Beadle said.

Riley said there's a simple problem with prosecutors' case: They have no witnesses to corroborate the girls' claims. And, Riley said, prosecutors can't prove he had sexual intentions with any of his gestures.

The 13-year-old girl, now 16, recounted another moment. She was having trouble with a test and had questions. Knutson kept joking with her and wouldn't answer her question, she said.

Knutson swiped her pen out of her hand. He then held then pen up to his crotch and asked the girl to grab it.

"He told me I was scared," the girl testified. "I said, 'I'm not going to do that. I'm 14 years old. And you're 30 years old. I don't know why you're trying to get me to do this.'"

His response?

"He told me not to tell anybody — like he did every time."

Contact the writer: Todd Cooper

todd.cooper@owh.com    |   402-444-1275

Todd covers courts and legal issues for The World-Herald.

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