BY JIM BUTTS
MORRISON - A Sterling school district teacher and wrestling coach admitted using a school computer to repeatedly try to solicit sex over the Internet with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl and her 11-year-old friend, investigators testified Friday.
Charles Christopher, 28, of 1102 Dixon Ave., Rock Falls, a P.E. teacher at Challand Middle School for five years, faces up to 22 years in prison if convicted of two charges of indecent solicitation of a minor. He posted $10,000 of his $100,000 bail and was released from Whiteside County jail Friday -the eve of what was to be his wedding day.
The "girls" were an undercover police detective from Burlington, Iowa, who was conducting a child predator sting operation, Sterling police said in a news release.
Christopher, who is also the head wrestling coach and an assistant varsity baseball coach at Sterling High School, faces up to 22 years in prison if convicted of two counts of indecent solicitation of a minor.
According to the conditions of his release, he cannot have contact with anyone younger than 18, go on any school or park property, and cannot use the Internet, a cell phone or an instant messaging device.
Also Friday, Sterling School District put Christopher on administrative leave, pending the outcome of its own investigation, Superintendent Wil Booker said.
According to Detective Sgt. Doug Farhger, Christopher is not suspected of any other incidents at this time.
According to Gazette archives, Christopher, who is from Decorah, Iowa, was to be married today in Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Sterling.
Christopher first chatted with the undercover detective in April, in a Yahoo! chat room, and eventually sent him digital pictures of his face and "other parts of his body," Whiteside County Assistant State's Attorney James Heuerman testified Friday at Christopher's bond hearing.
Burlington police said they eventually traced Christopher's Internet protocol address to the Sterling school district, and Monday called officer Jeff Mohr, police liaison to Sterling schools. The detective forwarded a picture of the man's face to Mohr, who identified Christopher, Heuerman said.
After a short joint investigation with Burlington police, Sterling police arrested Christopher about 5:30 Thursday afternoon, and seized a computer. He allegedly admitted to police that he had used a school computer to chat with an underage girl, Heuerman testified.
Christopher does not have Internet access at his home, his lawyer, Patrick Liston of Rock Falls, said Friday.
Christopher also allegedly admitted that he tried to meet with the 13-year-old and her 11-year-old neighbor to have sex and perform other sexual acts, Heuerman said. On one occasion, Christopher said he didn't make it to a meeting with the "girl" because his alarm didn't sound after a power outage, Heuerman testified.
Christopher is charged with indecent solicitation of a minor/criminal sexual assault of a minor, for allegedly soliciting sex with someone he thought was 13. The offense is punishable by three to seven years in prison or up to four years probation. He's also charged with indecent solicitation of a minor/predatory criminal sexual assault, for soliciting sex with someone he thought was 11, which is punishable by four to 15 years in prison or up to four years probation.
Associate Judge Vicki Wright accepted the bond recommendation, negotiated by Heuerman and Liston, even though she said it was "fairly low" considering the seriousness of the offense. She said she factored into her decision the fact that Christopher had not actually made contact with a minor, but with an undercover police officer.
His preliminary hearing is Friday.
According to Whiteside County court records, Christopher was convicted in October 2004 for driving under the influence of alcohol and successfully underwent 18 months of court supervision. He also was fined in 1997 for underage drinking and in 1998 for cosumption/intoxication in Decorah, according to Iowa court records.
Reach Jim Butts at 625-3600 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 570 or 284-2222.
School, parents react to news of arrest
By Joseph Bustos
and Malinda Osborne
STERLING - Twenty-eight-year-old middle school teacher Charles W. Christopher was put on paid administrative leave Friday, after police charged him with two counts of indecent solicitation of a child, Sterling Schools Superintendent Wil Booker said.
Christopher, arrested Thursday, posted $100,000 bond and was released Friday. According to the conditions of his release, he cannot have contact with anyone younger than 18, go on any school or park property, or use the Internet, a cell phone or an instant messaging device.
The school district is helping police, and also performing its own investigation, said Booker, who appointed Assistant Superintendent Tad Everett, Challand Middle School Principal Suzi Hesser and Technology Director Jeff Hippen to look into the matter. Among other things, the three will be examining records of computer activity, including e-mails, to see what, if anything, was done at the school, Booker said.
They also will speak to any students or parents who come forward with information, he said.
According to prosecutors, Christopher, a P.E. teacher at Challand for five years and the head wrestling coach and an assistant varsity baseball coach at Sterling High School, allegedly admitted using a Challand computer to solicit sex from what he thought was a 13-year-old girl, but what was actually an undercover officer.
Christopher does not have Internet access at his Rock Falls home, his attorney said Friday.
Aside from a DUI conviction in 2004, Christopher has no local criminal record as an adult, court records show.
Before he was hired, Christopher, like all school district workers, submitted to a criminal background check through an FBI database and was fingerprinted, Booker said.
"If he did not pass the background check, he would not have been hired," Booker said.
A person can be denied a job in the district if they have been convicted of a felony or lied on their application, he said.
The school district is mailing letters to all Challand and SHS parents today, informing them of the situation and the district's response, Booker said. Counselors at all six district schools will talk with any students who have concerns, he added.
Christopher seemed to be well-liked, there were no reports of problems in his classes and no complaints from any students, Booker said.
The district uses a $3,000-a-year program called Surf Control to block inappropriate Web sites, Hippen said. The program is supposed to block any site with the word "chat," but it may be possible to download an online chat service, install a chat program or enter into a chat room, Hippen said.
All staff members sign an agreement that they will not make any changes to a computer without the technology department's approval and will not use computers for anything not related to classroom instruction. The technology department has not received any reports that a teacher or staff member has ever installed or downloaded a chat program, he said.
Christopher's arrest was a big topic of conversation at Sterling High School's football game against United Township High School in Moline Friday night.
"You see these things all the time, but Sterling? And a coach?" said Cheryl Cervantes, whose son attends SHS. Her primary concern was whether Christopher had chatted with actual children previously, she said. "How do you screen for that? They look like normal people," she said.
"He wasn't friendly with parents. He seemed like kind of a loner. He was a real jerk," said Terry Sifuentez, whose son played baseball for Christopher his freshman year. "He didn't help them with what they needed to learn. He absolutely was not a good coach."
SHS senior Josh Garcia, who had Christopher as a wrestling coach his freshmen and sophomore years, had a different opinion.
He was a "friendly coach" whom he respected and joked around with, Garcia said. "He knew what he was doing. He would wrestle with all of us ... He wouldn't just tell us what to do, he would show us," he said.
Deana Hermes has a son who played baseball for Christopher. Although she didn't have much contact with the coach outside of the sports realm, he seemed like a "nice enough guy," she said.
Until a decision is made, she is withholding any judgment against him, she said.
"Isn't that what our court system is about?" she said. "You just hope for the best, and let justice be served, either way it falls."
Reach Malinda Osborne at 625-3600 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 526.
Reach Joseph Bustos at 625-3600 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 529.
Reach Malinda Osborne at 284-2222 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 526.
Reach Joseph Bustos at 284-2222 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 529.