- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - One of three teachers charged with having inappropriate sexual relationships with students at a western Pennsylvania high school has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 1½ to 3 years in prison.

Allegheny County Judge David Cashman had threatened to reject Wednesday’s plea agreement with Jason Cooper, 39, of Monroeville, but relented to spare the victim - who is now in college - from having to testify.

“I’m half-tempted to reject this plea. I don’t think it’s sufficient to punish you for what you’ve done,” Cashman said. “You are dangerous.”

Cooper was the first of three male Plum High School teachers scheduled for trial after being charged last year with having inappropriate relationships with female students. A fourth teacher is charged with trying to intimidate one of the alleged victims by pointing her out in class last year, and District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. has said a grand jury was investigating whether school administrators properly handled the allegations, but has yet to announce its findings.

Under the plea agreement, Cooper pleaded guilty to a felony charge of corruption of minors, furnishing alcohol to a minor and intimidating a witness. The intimidation charge was filed after Cooper contacted the student while free on bond awaiting trial. Prosecutors dropped charges of institutional sexual assault and a lesser corruption of minors count.



“I’m sorry for what I put everyone in my life through. I just want to move past this and hope everyone can heal from my mistake,” said Cooper, who will also surrender his teaching license, spend five years on probation, and register as a sex offender.

Defense attorney Michael DeRiso had argued the institutional sexual assault charge didn’t apply because the student was 18 before she consented to have sex. But Zappala’s office claimed the charge was appropriate because Cooper allegedly “groomed” the girl for sex by having a relationship with her before she became an adult.

Institutional sexual assault assumes that students aren’t legally able to consent to sex with teachers due to their in-school roles.

“This case is over, and that’s what my client wanted,” DeRiso said after the plea.

“You behaved like a frat boy instead of a mature, married, middle-aged man,” said Assistant District Attorney Brian Catanzarite, reading from a victim impact statement written by the student and her family. “It’s only to save our child from more pain that we agreed to this plea.”

Catanzarite said Cooper contacted the girl by phone and on social media in late 2014 after she began struggling with deaths in her family. They began kissing in his classroom, and he served her liquor when she visited Cooper’s home. They had sex after she helped Cooper move into an apartment early last year after he separated from his wife, the prosecutor said.

The girl said in the letter that she blamed herself at first, but now realizes Cooper was “dirty” and “vile.”

“You’re a predator,” Cashman told Cooper. “You targeted the individual, you knew she was defenseless. And you decided that you were going to swoop down and pick up your prey.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide