Attorney for local teacher accused of raping first-grader scrutinizing grand jury process that indicted her
POCATELLO — A local teacher accused of raping one of her first-grade students was back in court Friday for a motions hearing, during which her attorney requested a complete record of the grand jury proceedings used to criminally charge her.
Tiffany Marie Petersen, 46, of Pocatello, appeared relaxed Friday as she sat with her attorney, Shane Reichert of Pocatello, in front of 6th District Judge Mitchell Brown at the Bannock County Courthouse.
The judge approved most of Reichert’s requests for information related to the grand jury proceedings involving Peterson’s case, but denied two other general requests from Reichert for information related to all other Bannock County grand jury cases in the last six months.
Petersen is a Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 teacher at Syringa Elementary School in Pocatello, who, aside for one week this past January, has been on administrative leave from the district since January 2018.
Petersen and her former husband, David James McGarry, 50, of Jerome, were both charged with felony rape and lewd conduct against a child under 16 in January via Bannock County grand jury indictments.
Both McGarry and Petersen allegedly engaged in sexual intercourse and other sexual acts with a first-grade student starting in August 2008 while Petersen was the boy’s teacher at Washington Elementary School in Pocatello, according to the indictment. The sexual abuse of the student allegedly happened at Washington Elementary.
McGarry, who was Petersen’s boyfriend at the time of the alleged incidents, was apparently allowed into Petersen’s classroom at Washington Elementary while she was teaching, according to a civil lawsuit filed by the victim’s family against Petersen and School District 25 in August 2018.
The various requests from Reichert approved by Judge Brown on Friday were for documents used to summon the grand jury on Petersen’s case and to assign the judge in the case, for the transcript of the proceedings held to impanel the grand jury and the transcript of the grand jury proceeding where Bannock County prosecutors presented the evidence used to indict Petersen.
Both Reichert and the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office agreed that the transcript of the proceeding involving the impaneling of the grand jury will be a redacted version without the names of the grand jurors.
Among Reichert’s requests granted by Brown were for the list of the people who made up the grand jury pool, any instructions or questions provided to the grand jurors as well as any non-jurors present at the time of the proceedings.
Reichert declined to comment on the case Friday following the motions hearing.
However, in defending his requests for information involving all recent Bannock County grand jury proceedings, Reichert said during Friday’s hearing that he wants to ensure the grand jury in Bannock County handled Petersen’s case appropriately, considering the use of grand juries is very new in the county’s court system.
“This is a new procedure in Bannock County,” Reichert said in court on Friday. “The reality is that based on the history of this case specifically I want to make sure that everything was done properly and that the defense has all the information it needs.”
Reichert added in court on Friday that it would be a violation of Petersen’s due process rights if any of the Idaho criminal rules involving the grand jury process were violated and he would like all documents that could indicate a biased grand juror or grand jury, which he said could warrant a dismissal of the case.
Grand juries are typically called to expedite a case going to trial, allowing prosecutors to skip certain hearings in the court process if the grand jury indicts a crime suspect.
Though Brown denied Reichert’s request for all documents and records related to all recent Bannock County cases heard via grand jury in addition to Petersen’s, he left it open for Reichert to refile the request with additional supporting briefs at a later date if Reichert wishes to do so.
“Recognizing the policy behind grand jurors being one of secrecy and in preserving the identity of grand jurors and the proceedings with respect to other defendants who aren’t affiliated with this case in any way, I am going to decline the request at this time,” Brown said.
Brown provided the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office with five weeks to provide Reichert’s approved requests for information and set the next hearing for Petersen for May 17.
Her case is currently set to head to trial on June 4, but Brown said that date will be vacated and another date set based on the time it would take to provide Reichert with the information he sought coupled with a date conflict on the judge’s behalf. Brown has previously said he expects the trial to last three days.
McGarry, whose trial is scheduled to begin May 21 in front of 6th District Judge Stephen Dunn, is still incarcerated at the Bannock County Jail awaiting the adjudication of his case. Petersen has been released on her own recognizance.
Petersen and McGarry are each facing a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of the charges against them.