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Redlands school officials delayed telling police of sex allegations

Redlands school district officials waited six weeks to tell police about allegations of a sexual relationship between a student and a teacher who later gave birth to his baby, according to records.

July 08, 2013|By Richard Winton
  • Redlands high school teacher Laura Elizabeth Whitehurst, 28, was charged Monday with multiple sex crimes involving three boys who were her students.
Redlands high school teacher Laura Elizabeth Whitehurst, 28, was charged…

Redlands school district officials waited six weeks to tell police about allegations of a sexual relationship between a teenage student and a teacher who later gave birth to his baby, according to court records.

The Redlands Police Department said in a search warrant that school officials appeared to ignore state law, which requires educators to immediately report abuse allegations to authorities.

The teacher, Laura Elizabeth Whitehurst, was charged Monday with multiple sex crimes involving three boys who were her students.

The 28-year-old instructor was initially arrested July 1 on suspicion of having sex with a Citrus Valley High School student. Whitehurst gave birth to a child on June 18. Police said the father was a 17-year-old boy, who was present at the hospital for the birth.

San Bernardino County prosecutors on Monday charged Whitehurst with 41 felony sex crimes involving that boy and two other youths during her six years teaching in the Redlands Unified School District.

The police search warrant alleges that the district began investigating the accusations May 16 or 17 but did not notify Redlands police or a child protection agency until July 1, when the boy's mother complained to school officials about Whitehurst.

The warrant sought records that may show "teachers. school administrators and district administrators failed to report suspected child abuse as mandated." The warrant said that in May, the boy was interviewed by Citrus Valley High's principal and an assistant superintendent questioned Whitehurst.

In a statement, Redlands Unified Supt. Lori Rhodes denied any wrongdoing and said the district received the first credible information about a possible relationship on July 1, when the teen's mother came forward. She said that Assistant Supt. Sabine Roberson Phillips called police with the mother present. Whitehurst was arrested that day.

Rhodes said someone told school officials in May that a student and a teacher were having a relationship but did not provide any evidence. At that time, both were interviewed and "were adamant that nothing improper had occurred, and there was no credible evidence to the contrary," according to the statement.

Dmitry Gorin, a former sex crimes prosecutor in Los Angeles, said educators are supposed to report allegations of abuse to police no matter the strength of the evidence. "Police and social workers are there to judge the credibility of allegations, not school officials," he said.

Though such prosecutions are rare, in Los Angeles County two campus administrators were convicted of misdemeanor failure to report child abuse of a minor in 2008.

Redlands detectives interviewed the boy and then got him to call Whitehurst in hopes she would make incriminating statements, according to the warrant.

During the recorded call, Whitehurst allegedly admitted to the "ongoing sexual relationship, the birth of the child and [the boy] being the father of the child," according to the search warrant prepared by Det. Dominick Povero. Later, during questioning by detectives, Whitehurst allegedly admitted to having sex with the boy after a school trip to Disneyland in 2012, according to court records.

Whitehurst joined the district in 2007. Police said her alleged relationship with the other two boys was at Redlands High School several years ago.

One of the accusers, now 20, told detectives he and Whitehurst had sex in her classroom before school, in her apartment and in her car, said Redlands police spokesman Carl Baker. The other, now 22, told police he had a sexual relationship with Whitehurst while a junior at Redlands High in 2007 and 2008.

Whitehurst is charged with 30 counts of sexual intercourse with a minor and 11 of oral copulation with a minor. She was being held in lieu of $750,000 bail. If convicted of all the charges she faces 29 years in prison.

In filing the charges, San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Michael Ramos said Whitehurst hurt the future of her community. "Students represent the future of our communities, and protecting them will continue to be my No. 1 priority," he said.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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