Police report details teacher-student relationship at Shattuck-St. Mary'sby Alex Friedrich, Minnesota Public Radio,
Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Shattuck-St. Mary's dorm director who killed himself in 2008 had sexual contact for two years with a female foreign student while he and his wife were having marital problems, according to public safety documents.
A Faribault police report on the suicide indicates Leonard R. Jones met the student, a sophomore from Korea, in the fall of 2006. She lived in the dormitory at the private boarding and day school, and he was her houseparent. Police believe she was 15 when the relationship started.
Police say Jones killed himself after school officials confronted him about the inappropriate relationship. Chief Don Gudmundson has criticized the school, saying it should have notified authorities as required by law. Had they done so, he says, Jones' death may have been avoided.
Jones is the second Shattuck-St. Mary's teacher suspected of engaging in criminal sexual conduct with a student. A criminal complaint filed Monday charged former drama teacher Lynn P. Seibel with criminal sexual conduct involving six students between 1999 and 2003, as well as possession of illegal pornography, and use of minors in a sexual performance.
According to the police report, the Jones tragedy unfolded like this:
The student told police she kissed Jones that fall on the night before she was to leave for Hawaii. The two exchanged email while she was away. When she returned a few months later in the spring of 2007, they began seeing each other.
The student told police they met four or five times a week in her dorm room for sex. They later began to meet occasionally in Jones' apartment.
The student told police that they tried to end the relationship many times, but they would always resume.
Toward the end of their relationship, the student told police, they became aware of rumors of their relationship around school, and so began to meet less frequently.
Jones had begun to express suicidal thoughts in spring 2008 and saw a therapist, according to testimony his wife, Stefanie Tschirhart-Jones, gave to police. That August he told her he was depressed. In October 2008, they began living separately, she said.
Tschirhart-Jones informed police Jones had told her that school officials were unhappy that the couple was having marital problems. In an interview with MPR News on Oct. 15, Tschirhart-Jones, who has remarried and is now Tschirhart-Baldwin, said Jones told her the school offered to buy out his contract because he was depressed and struggling at work.
During the 10-day Thanksgiving break in 2008, the student told police, she stayed at school to be with Jones. School officials heard from others that she hadn't gone home to Korea, and that she hadn't been with her host family.
On Dec. 4, school officials spoke to Jones and requested travel logs, apparently because he was supposed to arrange the student's transportation to and from the airport.
That day, Jones told the student he would kill himself if the school ever found out about their relationship.
Also that day, and again at 4 p.m. on Dec. 5, school officials confronted the student about where she'd been during the break. The student told police they threatened her with expulsion. She ended up telling them about her relationship with Jones.
Police say she told school officials that the relationship didn't start until she was 18, but investigators concluded that wasn't the truth, and that she was trying to protect Jones.
The student emailed Jones that day telling him, "I'm sorry. I have nothing to say. I wish you find other happiness in your life...I am sorry for this...You can blame me for everything...Forget me and move on..."
That evening she wrote him, "Please don't do anything stupid. Don't hurt yourself. If you do, expect me to do the same."
She then called Jones about 8:30 p.m. and told him that school officials knew.
He hung up and wouldn't answer the phone again.
School officials told police they arrived at the school's Breck Hall dorm to talk to Jones just before 9 p.m. They were going to bring Jones to a meeting and then place him on administrative leave.
Jones came to the door. After the officials told him about the meeting, he told them to wait a moment. He walked back into his apartment, located in the residence hall. There he killed himself with a shotgun.
He did so about 20 to 30 feet from where his 22-month-old daughter was sleeping. Police found her still asleep after the suicide.
Jones could have faced a charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. State law criminalizes sexual relationships between adults and minors depending, in part, on the age of the victim, the difference in age between the perpetrator and the victim, the type of sexual activity, and the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim.
In Jones' case, he could have faced the first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge because he was in a position of authority over the victim, allegedly engaged in sexual penetration with the victim, was more than four years old than the victim, and because the victim was between 13 and 15 years of age.
If convicted, Jones could have faced years in prison. State sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence of 12 years to 14.4 years in prison for a person convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct who has no previous convictions.
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Alex Friedrich reports on higher education issues for MPR News.