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Coach/student athlete sex abuse case

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Melissa BowermanFormer Madras High School head track coach Melissa Bowerman was arraigned July 25 on sexual abuse charges involving a 17-year-old track team member.

Bowerman, 43, pleaded not guilty to using a child in a display of sexually explicit conduct, a Class A felony, and second-degree sexual abuse and luring a minor, both Class C felonies. The Class A felony is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and the Class C felonies, by up to five years in prison.

The charges result from an alleged relationship that Bowerman had had with the male athlete since May.

After a tip earlier this month that Bowerman was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a student, Oregon State Police investigated and arrested Bowerman at her home in Fossil on July 21.

In the affidavit for probable cause to arrest Bowerman, the investigating detective wrote that the victim stated that Bowerman had been messaging him through a Facebook application.

The victim said that the conversations had eventually turned sexual, and Bowerman had sent him nude photographs of herself, and asked for him to send a similar photo of himself.

During the interview, the victim said that Bowerman had said she wanted "to have sex with him," and he had said no.

The only physical encounters were alleged to have occurred after an awards banquet, when she drove him home and he touched her stomach and breast, and in the locker room when he kissed her.

When Bowerman was interviewed after her arrest, she said that the youth had kissed her, but she had not wanted him to, and during a walk, he had put his hand down her pants and "forcibly put her hand down his pants."

Asked why she had sent the nude photos of herself and said she wanted to have sex with the youth, "Ms. Bowerman could not say why." However, she admitted sending the nude photos, asking him to send nude photos, and talking to him about having sex, according to the affidavit.

At her home, police located the youth's track jersey, which she had worn in one of the photos. The jersey had a monkey sewn on, which related to her nickname for him, "Monkey Boy," while she referred to herself as "Angel Girl."

In court, Bowerman was represented by her court-appointed attorney, Jennifer Kimble. Security was set at $100,000, and Bowerman was instructed to have no contact with "the reporting party."

Circuit Court Judge Annette Hillman set the next preconference hearing for Friday, Aug. 8, at 11:30 a.m.

Coached at Condon before MHS

Bowerman, who was the head coach of the MHS track team in the spring, was assisted by her husband, Jon Bowerman, 76, of Fossil, the oldest son of the late Bill Bowerman, a well-known track coach who co-founded Nike. Bill Bowerman died at age 88, in 1999, years before Melissa and Jon Bowerman were married.

The Bowermans came to the Madras program as volunteer coaches in the 2013 track season, after the Jefferson County School District investigated the circumstances that led to Melissa Bowerman being dismissed in 2012 as a volunteer track coach at Condon High School.

Melissa Bowerman was terminated as a volunteer coach for the combined Condon-Wheeler track team after she attended the prom with a student.

Brad Sperry, the superintendent of the Fossil School District and athletic director for Wheeler High School, said he couldn't recall whether or not he'd been contacted by anyone from the Jefferson County School District before Bowerman became a volunteer coach at MHS.

"If they did, I probably wouldn't have gone into the gory details," said Sperry, noting that while the circumstances surrounding and leading up to the prom incident didn't rise to the level of involving law enforcement, they did show "a lot of poor choices, a lot of red flags."

Bowerman was dismissed by a cooperative committee from the Condon and Fossil school districts. Her husband, Jon Bowerman, the head coach, was not terminated, but instead resigned, Sperry said.

The decision to terminate Bowerman was controversial. "It was ugly, very ugly," he said, recalling meetings with the public. "We had people getting up and cussing at us (and asking), 'Why would you fire the Bowermans?'"

"Unfortunately, we're not allowed to say what we would like to say," said Sperry, a former Madras High School assistant principal. "We went through the meatgrinder over that whole thing."

Before Melissa Bowerman was terminated as a volunteer coach, the Bowermans had had a major impact on the program, by getting more students out for track and making improvements to the facilities.

"When they came and started handing out all that Nike stuff, we had just about everybody out," said Sperry. "We went to state every year they were here."

509-J superintendent reacts

Immediately after learning that Melissa Bowerman had been arrested, Jefferson County School District 509-J Superintendent Rick Molitor issued a statement to staff, families and community members apprising them of the arrest, and noting that the coach's contract ended with the conclusion of the 2013-14 track season.

"We are devastated any time we learn that the safety or well-being of a student may have been compromised," Molitor wrote, adding that hiring and screening processes would be reviewed.

Asked about the hiring of of Bowerman after the prom incident, Molitor said that the school district did extensive research on the topic with the Bowermans.

"We found there were concerns and questions about the prom issue," he said. "We found the sheriff's office (for Fossil and Condon) had investigated and no wrongdoing was found. We contacted both districts."

"Although there was a known lapse of judgment, there was no indication she would be involved in anything close to the charges she is facing," Molitor said. "We felt the positives we heard about the Bowermans' knowledge and connection to the greater track and field community would benefit our program and students."

The coaching duo was instrumental in raising awareness about the need for an improved track and in helping the community raise money to upgrade the high school track surface, he said.

Melissa Bowerman's arrest was the second arrest of a Madras High School coach during the 2013-14 school year. Michael Osborne, 45, the girls basketball coach and a physical education teacher, was arrested Nov. 20, 2013, for the sexual abuse of an athlete that had started when she was 16 years old.

Osborne, who is lodged in the Jefferson County Correctional Facility, is scheduled for a plea change and sentencing on Aug. 12, at 3 p.m.

"We are reviewing our policies and procedures for both background checks, hiring practices and sexual misconduct training," said Molitor.

"I have met with Evan Brown, our new AD, to plan coaches training on sexual misconduct and support for our students upon their return."

The district is also working with the Oregon School Board Association and has contacted a company that works with districts on the issue to further enhance their practices, he said.

Molitor stressed that current practices and policies on background checks and hiring were followed with both Osborne and Bowerman. "The background checks and work performance for these two never presented as being capable of the charges they both face," he said.

"With cases such as these, if I had a crystal ball and could predict the future, we would never be in this position," Molitor said. "However, since we can't predict the future and there must be some level of trust, we must be proactive in our training and monitoring of anyone working with our children."

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