Jury acquits former FLHS track coach

By Kevin Denke
Posted 12/7/11

        GREELEY- The fate of former Fort Lupton High School teacher and track coach Ray Brown came down to a single vote by 12 of his peers. Acquitted on all …

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Jury acquits former FLHS track coach


        GREELEY- The fate of former Fort Lupton High School teacher and track coach Ray Brown came down to a single vote by 12 of his peers. Acquitted on all counts, Brown is free to attempt to pick up the pieces of a life shattered over a year ago, when the Weld District Attorney’s office brought him up on charges of sexually abusing female athletes under his care.
       Brown had been charged with felony counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and sexual assault on a child by a person of trust as a pattern of abuse.      The verdict came down after three hours of deliberation by a jury evenly divided along gender lines, when the prosecution, led by Weld Deputy District Attorney Hollie Wilkinson, failed to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Brown’s representation in the case consisted of the Denver defense attorneys Leonard Chesler and John Tatum.

Brown testifies, closing arguments wrap case

            The fourth and final day of trial saw the accused take the stand on his own behalf. Testifying before a jury evenly split down gender lines, Brown answered questions posed by his defense attorney Leonard Chesler, explaining away some of the allegations against him while flatly denying others. Brown testified to knee problems that prevented him from kneeling without extreme pain and balance issues, claiming a diagnosis of osteoarthritis that has thus far necessitated three surgeries on his left knee and two on his right. Asked early in the examination if he had ever attempted to sexually gratify victim one, Brown answered, “Emphatically, no.”

            Brown recalled the afternoon of the April 2010 Skyview track meet, recalling victim 1 telling him she didn’t have a great day due to a sore shoulder. Brown said he touched her shoulder, and she jumped up. He didn’t know why and didn’t believe he did anything to shock her. He testified to never being alone at meets, that there was always a lot of kids around, and that his attention was mostly consumed by the running events that he monitored as coach. He gain denied any sexual interest in victim one.

            Recounting the hallway incident where he allegedly grabbed victim 2's buttocks, Brown said he was walking down the hallway with an unidentified male student who said, “Watch this,” then tapped victim 1 on the shoulder, going around her on the side. Brown said when she spun to see who tapped her, he was right behind her and had to stop. He testified that although he didn’t see anyone touch her buttocks, it may have been possible.

            Brown said that he had no sexual interest in victim 2 nor ever had. He recalled the stretching incident where he allegedly touched the victim’s genitalia, saying that while he was stretching victim 2’s leg to alleviate pain from an injury, he dropped to one knee, subsequently buckling under the pain. To steady himself, Brown said one hand went to the wall, while the other inadvertently landed near victim two’s genital area. He denied attempting to sexually gratify either himself or the victim.

            Brown admitted to talking to victim one in his office against her father’s wishes, asking what he may have done wrong and offering an apology, saying he felt justified in talking to victim 1 after she said it was just her father overreacting.

            On cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney Hollie Wilkinson queried Brown on his relationships with the victims. But she elicited little in personal information from the ex-coach, who claimed little personal contact outside of the track team. An exception was victim 1, whom he met as a freshman and who interacted with him in CPR classes, mock trial preparation and track. He recalled hugging her at the CPR class, but did not recall doing so at the conclusion of the mock trial sessions. He again denied touching her breast at the Skyview meet as well as retaliating against her the following Saturday through omitting her from the roster.

            Following Brown’s testimony, the judge called for closing arguments. Wilkinson offered the first. Her opening remarks accused Brown of violating the trust of those he was supposed to protect. Claiming he was selective in how he chose his victims, Wilkinson said Brown groomed victim 1 with hugs to get her used to him touching her. She said Brown was banking on shame to keep his victims quiet, and that each touch was for the purposes of sexual gratification.

            Chesler followed Wilkinson, saying that once upon a time, teachers were called upon to be substitute parents. He offered that such behavior now may likely result in being labeled a pedophile and a felon. He offered that each alleged incident, if it occurred, happened on the athletic field, not in private areas like the shower, the coach’s office or his car.

            Catching the jury’s full attention, Chesler told a tale of his he and his brother who were left to oversee the cooling of a pie his mother baked for her ladies social while she left to get ice cream, Unable to resist, the boys took taste after taste of the pie until hearing their mother coming and realizing fully one-fourth of the pie was missing. In a panic, the brother poked the family cat’s nose into the pie, leaving him on the counter covered in crumbs and goo for the mother to find.

       She did, and recalling how she tossed the unfortunate feline into the spring running behind the house, Chesler tied the story to the case, saying the cat had been sent up the river by crummy circumstantial evidence. Saying that the jury had the potential to return some dignity to Brown following the loss of his career and reputation, Chesler implored the jury to find in favor of the defense.

Prosecution rests case in Brown trial
            Thursday marked the end of the prosecution’s case against Brown. Before resting at 2 pm., prosecutors sought to cement their arguments against Brown, placing Fort Lupton Police Detective Crystal Schwartz on the stand as their last witness. Schwartz, assigned to the case early only to turn it over to Thornton police due to jurisdictional issues, resumed the investigation when additional allegations surfaced in Weld County at the high school. She wound up as lead on both cases when Adams County and Weld County combined their investigations under the Weld District attorney’s office.
            Schwartz, after detailing her resume, education and history in investigations with the FLPD, testified to interviews she conducted with victims 1 and 2, and a third witness related to victim 2.  She noted particular difficulties in contacting victim 2, who failed to appear for interviews on two occasions. When she finally met with Schwartz, she was apprehensive, embarrassed and "minimizing' her account of the hallway stretching incident, according to the detective. Referring to her notes, Schwartz recalled how the victim told her Brown’s hand moved from her ankle up her leg to her genitals, poking her there for less than 10 seconds.
            Continuing her testimony after the noon recess, Schwartz affirmed that victim 2 reported that the hand on her genitals was "more than a swipe," after which the victim told Schwartz she felt “weird and embarrassed, and got up right away.”

            Schwartz also testified to the victim’s reluctance to report the incident, saying that “she didn’t want to make a big deal, didn’t want to get Mr. Brown in trouble.”
            On cross examination, defense attorney Leonard Chesler queried Schwartz on the number of teacher sexual assaults she had investigated since April 2010 and now.
             “Two…no, three, I think,” Schwartz replied, prompting Chesler to speculate on the importance Schwartz assigns to particular cases, which she testified ran from nine to 12 consecutively.
            Chesler than asked if both parents were interviewed together, leaving victim one to be interviewed alone by Schwartz. Schwartz noted that the parents were asked if they wished to sit in but declined.
             Zeroing in, Chesler asked about the "bunch of boys" victim 1 said acted like nothing happened during the Skyview incident, specifically why they had never been identified or questioned or mentioned again in the statement.
            “An oversight?” Chesler said, receiving an affirmative from Schwartz before moving on to question victim 1’s demeanor during her initial interview with Schwartz.
            Chesler: “Was she talkative?”
            Schwartz: “Yes”
             Chesler: “Embarrassed?”
            Schwartz: “No”
            Chesler: “Distressed?”
            Schwartz: “No”
            Chesler: “In fact, she was smiling. You apparently put her at ease.”
            Schwartz: “I tend to.”
            Earlier, allegations of yet a third victim surfaced when a former student said that she had witnessed Brown stretching another female runner during practice, placing his hand on her buttocks for approximately 60 seconds.
            Prior to admitting the former student as a witness, the jury received "limiting instructions" from the judge restricting consideration of the testimony to a narrow set of parameters, one of which was determining a pattern of abuse on the part of the defendant.  The witness, no longer at the high school, said she saw Brown touch the third girl's buttocks, placing his “whole hand on her butt” for close to a minute.  The witness said that Brown offered her stretching help as well, which she declined.  “I didn’t want him to touch me,” she testified.
            Following the prosecution's case, the defense team called for an acquittal of the charges against brown, citing, among other things, the absence of evidence of arousal or intent to arouse on the part of Brown. Rejecting the motion, Judge Quammen said the evaluation and weight of the evidence was for the jury to decide, not the court.
            Calling its first witness, the defense swore in victim 2’s boyfriend, a juvenile at the time of the incident. He testified to a conversation that the pair had in which victim two never mentioned the genital touching or the buttocks grab in the hallway.
            Next up, FLHS track coach Brian McGee testified to the difficulties in scheduling track athletes for upcoming events, an area he said he had made his own mistakes in, supporting the idea that the alleged retaliation against victim 1 may have been an oversight.  He also said that victim 1 missed some meets where McGee felt she had not made enough practices to deserve to compete.
            Jurors also heard from Brown’s coaching peer at the school, Teri Kopfman, who testified for the prosecution on the procedures for stretching athletes/ She told Deputy District Attorney Hollie Wilkinson that coaches did “not typically” touch a runner’s buttocks when stretching.  She responded in the negative when Wilkinson asked if it was ever necessary to touch the groin of a student. On cross examination, defense Attorney John  Tatum compared Brown’s job at track meets to a ringmaster in a three-ring circus, an analogy first offered by Kopfman.  Subsequently, offered Tatum, Brown wasn’t hidden in obscurity at the meets but rather surrounded by students looking to him for scheduling, stats and advice.


Ill-fated defense demonstration marks second day of Brown trial
            GREELEY - A second Fort Lupton High School student testified against Ray Brown Wednesday, marking day 2 in the sexual assault trial against the former teacher and track coach.
            The student, referred to here as victim 2, gave testimony detailing two incidents of alleged improper touching by Brown, both taking place within the halls of the high school during the spring of 2010. Brown is charged with felony counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and sexual assault on a child by a person of trust as a pattern of abuse.
            During the first incident, the victim alleged that Brown, her coach at the time, offered to stretch her sore leg after a strain, something she testified turned into unwanted touching of her genital area for “30 seconds or less.”
            The second incident, less than two weeks later, involved an alleged groping of the victim’s buttock by Brown in the hallway while she switched classes. She testified to feeling someone squeeze her left buttock, turning to find only Brown behind her, who reportedly said “Geez, [alleged victim name] Trying to run into me or something?”
            She testified that the alleged grab “Made me feel uncomfortable, like when anyone grabs your butt, its weird."
            Coming in the last 90 minutes of the day, her testimony dominated the end of nearly 10 hours in session for the jury, who witnessed an unorthodox demonstration by the defense. During cross-examination of victim 2, Brown's defense attorney, Leonard Chesler, attempted to establish a timeline for the stretching incident, at one point lying on the floor and asking the victim to take up a display pointer over the prone lawyer.
            When Chesler told the victim to “touch my groin,” Judge Thomas Quammen, visibly alarmed, said “No. No. This demonstration is over,” prompting Chesler to switch to a more conventional question-and-answer approach.
            The jury earlier heard testimony from both of victim 1’s parents. The girls' mother was first on the stand. After confirming that she also witnessed Brown driving a student to school before a mock trial session, she recounted questioning her daughter after the Skyview track meet where she was allegedly fondled by Brown. Saying her daughter was very upset and anxious following the meet, she said she had to push for answers. She testified that her daughter eventually told her that Brown started to rub her back before reaching around and grabbing her breasts. She said at that point, she jumped up, turned around and looked at Brown, who "sneered" at her.
            Under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Rodianov, she said the revelation left her scared for her daughter, and scared for her job, a position within the school district. She said that fear, coupled with the victim’s wishes to not tell anyone about the incident, led her to tell the victim’s father only the back rub portion of the story, withholding the breast touching. She said she felt it was more appropriate for the father to handle the incident as the girl’s father, and not an employee of the district.
            A few days later, when the victim attended an invitational track meet, she was not on the roster for her specialty, which her father testified led them to believe she was being retaliated against by Brown. The father met with then-athletic director Kerry Brunton, who ordered Brown to have no contact with the victim or the victim’s parents.
            A subsequent meeting between Brown and victim one occurred when she returned a uniform and was allegedly accosted by Brown. Following that incident, the victim’s mother said she made the victim’s father aware of the sexual assault allegation.         
            Following the revelation, the father said he demanded a meeting with then-principal Staci Jenks, who later testified she was unaware of the incident up to that point. ‘Disgusted’ with the way he felt the school was handling the issue, the father contacted the Fort Lupton Police Department, which began the formal investigation.
            During cross-examination of the mother, Chesler asked if, as a district employee, the mother was aware that not reporting the incident was a crime. He also chided her for sending the father to talk to Brunton without all the facts as she knew them, something that may have put her daughter at risk when she subsequently wound up in Brown’s office.
            Also on the stand during day two for the prosecution were Brunton; current FLHS Principal Alice Sueltenfuss, Jenks, who confirmed she had an intimate affair with Brown and FLHS attendance clerk Rhonda Schaefer, who testified as to victim one’s apparent distress following the Skyview incident.

Former teacher's accuser takes stand on first day of trial
            GREELEY – On the first day of Brown's trial, a  female Fort Lupton High School student testified that the former teacher and track coach inappropriately touched her at a 2010 track meet and then threatened her not to tell anyone about an ensuing confrontation during the first day of testimony in the former teacher's sexual assault trial.
            Brown is charged with felony counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and sexual assault on a child by a person of trust as a pattern of abuse.
            The victim, who testified for the latter part of the afternoon, testified to unwanted hugs from Brown that made her uncomfortable but she felt pressured to receive during a CPR class she attended with Brown and at the end of a mandatory school mock trial assignment. She testified to seeing Brown give a female student a ride to a January 2010 trial session, held at the school mornings before class, and said Brown appeared to be “shocked” when she saw him.
            Her testimony culminated with an April 2010 track meet at Skyview High School in Thornton, the site of the alleged improper touching. She said she competed at the meet, but did poorly due to soreness in her shoulder. Picking up her equipment in the stands after she had completed her events, she said she told Brown that she performed poorly due to her shoulder.
            She testified. as she bent to retrieve her things, Brown began to massage her shoulders, moving his hands down her back and around the side of her breasts, at which point she pulled away.
            Asked if Brown touched her nipples, she replied, “It was close.”
            The girl said she told her mother about the incident after the meet. She said she asked her not to tell anyone else. Her mother told her father, who contacted the school and requested that Brown have no contact with the girl. The request was subsequently relayed by then-Fort Lupton High School Athletic Director Kerry Brunton.
            The girl did return her track uniform to Brown, a point of contention from Brown’s defense attorney. She testified that Brown confronted her, saying “I didn’t touch you inappropriately. If your dad had a problem with me, he should have come to me.”
            She said that Brown told her to not tell anyone about the conversation in a threatening voice and attempted to grab her as she left.
            Under cross examination by the defense, the girl weathered questioning about her softball coach, whom she previously told detectives she “hated,” and another male teacher she reportedly made cry. Defense attorney John Tatum entered dozens of photographic exhibits of the track meet location and the halls of Fort Lupton High School, having the girl identify each before pointing out inconsistencies in her testimony.
            Several of those arguments of inconsistencies by the defense attorney were long in coming and seemed to irritate Judge Thomas Quammen, who pushed back with increasing frequency, sustaining prosecutorial objections and moving the questioning along.


Jury selection
            Testimony in Brown’s trial officially began at noon Tuesday, after more than a day of jury selection finally wielded a stable of 12 jurors and one alternate. Quammen questioned potential jurors on whether they could be fair and impartial to an African-American defendant, the first of several mentions of Brown’s race to come up during the trial today.
            The race issue reared its head again during jury selection with additional questions by Brown’s defense attorney Leonard Chesler, also gaining assent from the jury pool that the “mere accusation’ of sexual abuse was devastating to a teacher’s career and personal life. Deputy District Attorney Hollie Wilkinson tended more towards witness credibility during the selection process, laying the groundwork for the juvenile witnesses the jurors will hear testimony from during the trial.

Opening statements
            Weld County Deputy District Attorney Milena Rodianov detailed the allegations against Brown in her opening statement. She painted the picture of two girls and a track coach who, she said, “saw opportunity and took advantage. She told jurors Brown inappropriately touched each, one at a track meet and the other in the halls of Fort Lupton High School, the latter incident witnessed by a juvenile relative of the victim.
            Tatum, who offered the opening statement in Brown’s defense, called it a case of “Perception versus reality.” He highlighted the pressures teachers generally face and again highlighted the fact that Brown was the only black man teaching at the school. Taking it a step further, Tatum recounted an allegation of the second victim, who said that Brown in a second incident involving her, grabbed her buttocks while she moved from class to class. Alluding that anyone might have touched her, he said she turned around to see the only African-American male walking down the hall.
            Tatum, focusing on the first victim’s statements to the police, pointed out inconsistencies in her testimony and behavior, in particular her return of a track uniform to Brown’s office after the alleged incident took place. Tatum questioned her fear of Brown in light of her approaching the former coach, who questioned the girl about her account of the track meet incident. Tatum said the ensuing confrontation between Brown and the girl, “may have been well-intentioned, but was the dumbest thing this man has ever done. “

Witness testimony
            The first witness on the stand was Weld Re-8 Assistant Superintendent John Hoag. He testified to the district’s position on the allegations against Brown, saying he came under fire for violating district policy on immorality, incompetence and insubordination, the latter springing from the confrontation with victim one, whom he was barred from contacting. Hoag confirmed that he was made aware of a previous six- to eight-month romantic relationship in 2006 between then Fort Lupton High School principal Staci Jenks and Brown but wasn’t concerned as Jenks told him it ended amicably. Jenks, who resigned her position at the end of the 2010 school year, conducted the initial investigation into allegations against Brown.
            Weld Re-8 Superintendent Mark Payler, the second witness of the day, confirmed the majority of Hoag’s testimony. He testified hat he had no concerns about Jenks investigating as long as anything she found went to Payler, who in turn would forward it to the police.
            When Chesler cross-examined Payler, he asked the superintendent if he knew the phrase, “No fury like a woman scorned.” Payler said he had never heard the familiar quote, which prompted Chesler to ask if he had ever taught literature. Closing his examination of Payler, Chesler asked if Jenks left under the shadow of an unspecified student body complaint, which Payler affirmed.
            Tuesday wrapped up at 6:15 p.m. with Brown’s alleged first victim finishing her testimony. Testimony began again at 8 a.m., Wednesday with Fort Lupton High School secretary Rhonda Schaefer on the witness stand.


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