January 19, 2019

POCATELLO — A Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 teacher faces up to life in prison after being charged with multiple sex crimes against a first-grade student.

Tiffany Marie Petersen, 46, of Pocatello, also known as Tiffany M. Hallinan, has been charged with one count of lewd conduct against a child and one count of rape of a child under the age of 16, both felonies.

Petersen was indicted on the sex crimes by a Bannock County grand jury on Wednesday and arrested by Pocatello police officers later that day.

Petersen allegedly engaged in sexual intercourse and other sexual acts with a child who was either 7 or 8 years old between Aug. 1, 2008, and Dec. 21, 2009, at Washington Elementary School in Pocatello, according to the indictment.

Each of the felony charges Petersen is facing has a maximum penalty of life in prison if she is convicted.

Aside from information contained in the indictment, not much is known about the criminal charge as authorities have not released any additional details about the crimes Petersen has been accused of committing and all other court documents in the case have been sealed.

However, some details of the allegations levied against Petersen are included in a prior civil lawsuit filed against Petersen and her employer, School District 25, by the parents of a former student.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2018, alleges that a male victim was in Petersen’s first-grade class at Washington Elementary School in 2008.

The lawsuit states: “While a student in Ms. Petersen’s class, (the male victim) was subjected to physical, verbal and sexual abuse by Ms. Petersen, as well as her boyfriend, who was allowed to be present in her classroom.”

The lawsuit does not identify Petersen’s boyfriend by name. The parents of the male victim began to suspect something was occurring in Petersen’s classroom when their child became quiet and withdrawn during the first half of the 2008 semester, the lawsuit states.

At the time of their child’s apparent withdrawal, the parents requested a meeting with Steve Morton, who was the principal of Washington Elementary, according to the civil suit. They also met with Patti Mortenson, a School District 25 administrator.

“Despite (the parents) serious concerns, the District 25 administration took no action during the 2008 first semester, however, Ms. Petersen was transferred out of Washington Elementary to another school over Christmas break in 2008,” the lawsuit states.

As as result of the alleged abuse that the male victim encountered, the lawsuit states he has suffered from “behavioral issues, such as impulsiveness, touching other children and becoming easily frustrated and angry.” Moreover, he has suffered from “physical and mental issues, including trouble eating and severe anxiety that has required emergency room visits.”

The male victim has been on several medications for his behavioral problems and anxiety and has consistently been in counseling since 2008, the suit states.

The suit also states that Petersen had a “special relationship” with the male victim, that she had “a duty to protect him from reasonably foreseeable harm,” and that by “allowing her boyfriend to be present in her classroom and allowing him to physically and sexually abuse (the male victim) … Petersen egregiously breached her duty to protect (the male victim) from harm.”

The lawsuit states that the School District 25 “knew or should have known that allowing an unknown person, with an unknown background and proclivities to an elementary school classroom would pose a threat to its students.”

The lawsuit also claims that School District 25 was negligent, in that it permitted or encouraged the victim’s alleged abuse in several ways, which include by tolerating the abuse of minors, concealing and covering up the abuse of minors, allowing an unknown adult to have unsupervised contact with minors, failing to adopt policies and procedures to identify potential and actual sex offenders and failing to properly investigate claims of abuse.

The family is being represented in the lawsuit by Pocatello-based attorney Reed Larsen and are seeking at least $10,000 in damages. The case is expected to head to trial some time in the next 12 to 18 months, according to court documents.

Larsen told the Journal on Friday that the male victim was finally able to recently reveal his abuse to a counselor, which is why it took nearly a decade for the family to file a lawsuit against Petersen and School District 25. Larsen also said the male victim had until two years after his 18th birthday to file the suit.

“This child had been dealing with things privately and it took him quite a while to deal with them publicly,” Larsen said. “This child has gone through a ton of problems. And as you can tell from the lawsuit, the district never took it serious. The parents did not know the nature and extent of his abuse until recently.”

Larsen, who could not comment on other specifics of the suit, added, “This is an awful thing for a child to have to go through, especially from a person they are supposed to trust.”

In response to the lawsuit, defense attorneys representing the School District, Brian K. Julian and Amy G. White, both of Boise, and the defense attorney representing Petersen, Daniel J. Skinner, also of Boise, denied all of the allegations made by the parents of the victim.

School District 25 announced via a Friday news release that it placed a teacher on administrative leave effective Thursday. The School District did not name the teacher in its news release, but Bannock County authorities subsequently confirmed that the teacher is Petersen.

Petersen is currently a teacher at Syringa Elementary School in Pocatello. The School District confirmed on Friday that Ms. Petersen has not been in a classroom with minor students since January 2018.

She will remain on administrative leave until further notice, the School District said.

“This is a decision that was in the best interest of our students and the district,” School District 25 Superintendent Douglas Howell said in the press release. “As a public school district, we accept the responsibility to protect the safety and well-being of our students and staff in a positive learning environment. This is an obligation that we take very seriously, and one that prompts us to take swift, consistent action when necessary.”

School District 25 said in a subsequent news release issued Friday evening that “based on information provided to the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 by authorities, an employee of the district was placed on administrative leave on January 7, 2018 while a criminal investigation was being conducted. While working with authorities and based on information given to (the district) the employee was removed from administrative leave status on January 14, 2019. At such time there was no indication from the authorities of any safety risk. The employee was again placed on administrative leave, effective January 17, 2019.”

Howell said in the second news release, “At this time, our first priority is to reinforce to our learners and their parents that we take any reports of sexual assault and misconduct very seriously.”

Petersen, who has retained Shane Reichert, of Pocatello, as her criminal defense attorney, was released on her own recognizance Thursday and is expected to enter a plea on the two charges during a Tuesday court hearing at the Bannock County Courthouse in Pocatello.

In addition to the possibility of serving up to two life sentences if convicted, Petersen may be required to pay specific restitution costs incurred by the victim as a result of injury or loss caused by the criminal act.

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