District Court judge amends sex charges against former Aztec High teacher
A Dec. 11 jury trial date has been scheduled for James Coulter, a former math and ethics teacher and cheerleading coach at Aztec High School.
FARMINGTON — A Gallup District Court judge has amended the criminal sexual contact charges a former Aztec High School teacher is accused of after the prosecution conceded the defendant didn't use force or coercion against a female student in 2015.
Criminal charges filed against James Coulter, 33, were amended on Oct. 29 by District Court Judge Louis E. DePauli, Jr. to fourth-degree felony counts of criminal sexual contact from second-degree felony counts, according to court documents.
Coulter, a former ethics and math teacher who also was a cheerleading coach, is accused of two incidents of unlawful sexual relations with a 17-year-old female student in November-December 2015 at Aztec High School, and also at Coulter's residence, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
The defendant resigned on May 20, 2018. The New Mexico Public Education Department revoked his licensure in Nov. 9, 2018.
Coulter is also part of a lawsuit filed against the district by the parent of a student Coulter is accused of grooming for a future relationship.
A lawsuit filed by the mother of a student who died during the 2017 Aztec High School shooting accuses the board of education and its superintendent of negligent operation of Aztec High School, stating that they had a duty to ensure students would be free of "sexual" predation by staff and teachers at district schools.
The suit also claims female students were at risk from Coulter based on information the district possessed in 2016.
Criminal charges amended
Court documents show Coulter was initially charged with two fourth-degree felony counts of criminal sexual penetration at the time of his arrest in August 2018.
The case was investigated by the New Mexico State Police, who were contacted by stated education officials after evidence was found of an alleged illegal sexual relationship in 2015 with the student.
Coulter has been incarcerated at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center since his arrest.
The charges were later amended on Sept. 10, 2018, to two second-degree felony counts of criminal sexual contact.
Judge DePauli's Oct. 28 court order was preceded by motions filed by Coulter's attorney Sarah Field and the San Juan County District Attorney's Office regarding the dismissal of the case.
The order states that the prosecution is required to prove Coulter used his position as a teacher to coerce the teen to sexual contact.
It also states the prosecution conceded that there was no evidence Coulter used any coerce or force on the teen as defined in state statute.
That led Judge DePauli to reduce the felony counts from second to fourth-degree.
“We are disappointed the court ruled on Mr. Coulter’s withdrawn motion to amend the charges rather than the request to dismiss the case entirely," Field said in a statement. "It is clear from the state’s filings, interviews, and own admissions to the court they have been holding Mr. Coulter in custody on trumped up charges for over fourteen months.”
In an Oct. 23 brief filed with the court, Field states the teen confirmed the consensual nature of their relationship.
"The real problem is in the wording of the (state) statute, we tried to apply the most severe penalty and the court disagreed with our interpretation," according to San Juan County Chief Assistant District Attorney Dustin O'Brien.
A Dec. 11 jury trial date was scheduled after the Oct. 28 order in Aztec District Court.
Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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