Former LHS employee pleads guilty




  • In US
  • 2022-09-24 12:23:00Z
  • By Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

Sep. 24-A former Lewiston High School employee pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of injury to a child following an exchange of messages and photos with a student on the social media app Snapchat.

Filiotamaitai V. Church, 23, entered a guilty plea as part of a plea agreement to Magistrate Judge Sunil Ramalingam on Friday at the Nez Perce County Courthouse. Church appeared in court and in a low, quiet voice said "guilty" when Ramalingam asked how he pleaded. Church was represented by attorney Paul T. Clark.

Deputy Prosecutor Nathan Rupp was representing the Nez Perce County Prosecutor's Office. Rupp said the victim in the case was informed of the hearing and plea agreement but wasn't present in court.

Ramalingam sentenced Church to withheld judgment to serve 60 hours of community service in lieu of five days in jail. He also will be on probation for up to a year. The withheld judgment status means that after Church completes probation, he can have the case dismissed by a judge and wouldn't have a conviction on his record. Church wasn't fined but will pay court costs of $157.50.

Ramalingam told Church that he wished him luck on successfully completing his probation so "that you can put this behind you."

Lewiston School District Superintendent Lance Hansen confirmed that Church is no longer employed at the district. He was employed as an assistant football coach and a special education instructional assistant. He was removed from both positions, with one ending date of March 25 and one of April 5.

At an August school board meeting, the district policy was updated to clarify what types of electronic methods employees can use to communicate with students. Electronic communication includes social networks, instant messages, websites, video and text messages.

According to the probable cause affidavit, an officer responded March 25 to Lewiston High School and was contacted by principal Kevin Driskill. Driskill was contacted by a student who showed him photos on her phone, and Driskill identified the person in photos as Church.

The officer spoke with the student and said she was in contact with Church through Snapchat for about 1-2 weeks. Initially the messages were appropriate, but then she began receiving messages she described as "weird" and "pervy" from Church, according to the probable cause.

The 15-year-old student received messages and photos from Church on the social media app, some of which were described in the probable cause. One of the photos showed Church wearing shorts and a T-shirt in a kitchen while he pointed at his chest. Another image was a meme showing a woman wearing a thong with a dog laying on the woman's backside; above the woman is the word "you" and above the dog is the word "me." Later, Church asked the student to delete the message and the photo. The student said she never received any nude photos from Church, according to the probable cause.

According to the probable cause, the officer and a detective spoke with Church, who said the student had added him on Snapchat and he sent her photos. Church said that he asked for the messages to be unsaved because he thought his fiance would be upset if she found out he was sending messages to the student.

Church told the detective that he wasn't trying to solicit sexually explicit photos from the student or establish a sexual relationship, but he did flirt with her. He didn't have any physical contact with her and didn't solicit nude photos or sexual material. She sent photos where she was clothed, according to the probable cause.

"Honestly I just feel sick to my stomach. I'm not trying to play the victim or anything ... I know I (expletive) up," Church said, according to the probable cause.

The case was then forwarded to the Nez Perce County Prosecutor's Office after the student and her father requested criminal charges. Church was initially charged with enticing a child through use of the internet or other communication device, a felony, but the charge was amended Aug. 9 to a misdemeanor injury to child.

Brewster may be contacted at kbrewster@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2297.

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