Feb 11, 2016

Cody school employee alleged to have had sex with student

A 24-year-old Powell man is alleged to have had a months-long sexual relationship with a 16-year-old he reportedly met during his then-job with the Cody school district.

Ryan C. Swanson, who’s been jailed since his Dec. 17 arrest, stands charged with five felony counts of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

Cody police say both Swanson and the girl acknowledged the sexual relationship in December

Ryan Swanson
The charges allege Swanson took “immodest, immoral or indecent liberties” with someone under the age of 17 while being four or more years older. Each count relates to a different location where Swanson allegedly had intercourse with the girl. That includes an alleged encounter at a school facility, when school was not in session.

Swanson worked for the Cody district for about a year as a part-time sound and light technician. The district terminated Swanson from his position after his arrest, said Park County School District No. 6 Superintendent Ray Schulte.

At a Jan. 20 preliminary hearing, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters allowed Swanson’s case to proceed toward a trial in District Court while lowering his bail from $50,000 to $20,000 cash.

“He’s compassionate, caring and a helpful person,” Swanson’s defense attorney, Tom Sutherland of Casper, said in arguing for a lower bond. Sutherland submitted a packet of letters attesting to Swanson’s good character, written by family members, people he’s worked for and one of his former professors at Northwest College.

The defense attorney said an order for Swanson to stay away from the alleged victim would be enough of a safeguard for the community.

“There’s only one allegation by one student he was around — and he was around hundreds of students at this job at the high school,” Sutherland said, asking for a $25,000 surety bond.

Judge Waters said that, after listening to Cody Police Detective Ron Parduba’s recounting of the case at the preliminary hearing, he was “a little less concerned about some of the issues.”

However, he also warned Swanson that, in addition to the age difference, it’s generally illegal for someone to have sex with a person if they’re in a “position of authority” over them.

“This kind of situation, one is playing with fire, big time, as you’ve discovered,” Waters told Swanson. “And that does cause the court concern about that public safety element. I understand it’s just one student, but it was a student at the high school over which you weren’t necessarily a teacher, but certainly (a student) you were in a position to be around and be working with.”

Law enforcement isn’t exactly sure when the alleged sexual encounters occurred, but believes they took place sometime between early July and mid-December 2015.

“This kind of situation, one is playing with fire, big time, as you’ve discovered,” Judge Bruce Waters told Swanson.

The girl’s relationship with Swanson apparently drew her pastor’s concern in July, according to an affidavit from Parduba submitted in the case. The affidavit says the pastor made the girl tell her parents and she told them she would stop talking to Swanson. The pastor also contacted superintendent Schulte, who, in turn, contacted police.

While expressing concern that the relationship was inappropriate, the pastor apparently didn’t express any knowledge that it was sexual; he also would not divulge the girl’s name to authorities, Parduba wrote.

Schulte told the Tribune he later followed up with Cody police about their investigation, “at which point the investigator told me he didn’t find anything.”

Schulte says he told Parduba the school district planned to speak with Swanson before the start of the school year, and Parduba asked if he could sit in on that interview.

“I said, ‘Well, you did your investigation. I don’t know why you’d need to sit in on our meeting,’” Schulte recounted to the Tribune.

Detective Parduba recalls it differently. He wrote in his affidavit and testified in court that he’d asked Schulte to notify him when the school interviewed Swanson — so that he could attend — and that Schulte never let him know.

Whichever the case, Schulte and Cody High School Activities Director Tony Hult ended up confronting Swanson without Parduba.

“Swanson said he was just being friendly; texting with the kids,” Parduba wrote of Hult’s later recollection of the conversation. “Swanson told them it might have been inappropriate in talking to the girl too much and that he would stop.”

The girl later told authorities she and Swanson did start as just friends, but things apparently became sexual sometime over the summer break, the affidavit says.

In early December, the girl reportedly told a teacher’s assistant she was sleeping with Swanson and the assistant notified his supervisor. Schulte again notified Cody police, who conducted a series of interviews.

One of the girl’s friends provided Parduba with a text Swanson reportedly sent to the girl, “describing a number of sexual acts he would like to do to her,” the affidavit says.

When Parduba searched the girl’s phone, “the one message that I got was Ryan (Swanson) telling her to delete all her messages and her texts between the two of them,” the detective testified at last month’s hearing.

The teacher’s assistant said the girl told him Swanson had been abusive, but the girl later told Parduba that Swanson had never mistreated her and always was very nice, the affidavit says.

Authorities arrested Swanson at Cody High School on Dec. 17.

In an interview with Cody Sgt. Jon Beck after his arrest, “Mr. Swanson told Sgt. Beck ... that he did in fact have a sexual relationship with the victim,” Parduba testified. Differing from the girl’s account, Swanson apparently did not recall an encounter on school property, Parduba indicated.

Swanson is set to enter a plea to the five charges at a Feb. 24 arraignment.

~ By CJ Baker

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