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Camarillo Teacher in Sex Case Returns to Jail

Hearing: Judge finds instructor, accused of crimes involving 11 teens, violated terms of a previous release. Defense argues 'letter or spirit' of order was not broken.

April 06, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chad Pridgen, a Camarillo High School teacher and coach charged with sexually abusing 11 male students, was returned to jail Friday in lieu of $500,000 bail after a judge ruled Pridgen had violated terms of a previous release and posed a threat to public safety.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Vincent O'Neill Jr. also issued strict orders for Pridgen not to contact any minors, current or former Camarillo High students, and barred him from using the Internet except to communicate with his attorney.

"I believe Mr. Pridgen is a danger and is unable to control himself in his desire to have access to minors," O'Neill said in court.

"I find his behavior ... just scary to the point where the public's safety becomes an issue," O'Neill said.

Pridgen is accused of having oral sex with or trying to seduce 11 teenage boys, all but two of whom are Camarillo High students.

Authorities say the alleged sex acts occurred at Pridgen's home, where he frequently had students over for after-school and weekend parties.

Friday's hearing, attended by several alleged victims and their families as well as supporters of Pridgen, stemmed from a motion to increase bail filed by Deputy Dist. Atty. Douglas Ridley.

On the previous release, after Pridgen had paid $250,000 bail, Ridley said Pridgen got a job at a Sherman Oaks talent agency working with children and teens and had planned an unrelated trip to Washington, D.C. This was despite previous orders that Pridgen stay away from minors and remain in California until the case is resolved.

Pridgen had also communicated via the Internet with a former student who later was included as a victim in the prosecution's complaint, Ridley said in court.

"It's extremely disturbing that Mr. Pridgen would have applied for a job where he would have to contact children and teens," Ridley said. "This is exactly where he should not have been."

Paul Takakjian, Pridgen's attorney, argued the evidence was insufficient to suggest his client had violated the "letter or spirit" of the terms of his release. Those terms, he said, stipulated that Pridgen could talk to minors when they had their parents' direct supervision.

One woman from the talent agency told authorities she saw Pridgen alone with a child. But Takakjian said at least three others said they did not observe Pridgen alone with minors.

On the witness stand Friday, Pridgen said he thought his job at Options Talent was an ideal fit, because the agency requires all children under age 18 be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

While the position also required him to approach people he thought could be potential models and actors, Pridgen said he chose not to approach anyone under 18.

"There was no opportunity for me to contact minors in this job," he said in court. "That's why it seemed like a safe opportunity within the constraints of the restraining order."

Takakjian also opposed the more strict probation terms Ridley had suggested, saying the prohibition on computer use borders on a civil-rights violation.

"There is a point beyond which reasonableness must control, and I think we are at that point," he said. "Let him live his life and help me defend this case."

O'Neill, however, granted all of Ridley's requests. Because bail hearings require a judge to assume all charges are true, O'Neill said Pridgen should not be given much leeway.

"The charges would suggest there was a gross violation of his trust as a teacher," he said. "Bail is a condition of trust, as are restraining orders."

Outside court, Brenda Andrade, a Ventura attorney hired by one of the alleged victims in the case, praised O'Neill's ruling.

"I think the court recognized the danger Pridgen poses to the public and correctly increased the bail," she said.

The father of one of the alleged teen victims said he also was pleased with the outcome of the hearing.

"My son is feeling much safer now," he said.

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