HENDRICKS CO. — The mother of a former Tri-West student is criticizing a plea deal that resulted in a former teacher pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge and receiving probation.
Stacy Lewis of North Salem filed a tort claim in 2019, which alleged Tyler Bruce exchanged inappropriate messages with Stacy's daughter, then a 16-year-old student, late at night on Snapchat, and touched her under her clothing on several occasions.
Bruce pleaded guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge of attempted obstruction of justice as part of a plea agreement with Hendricks County Prosecutors.
As part of the plea, prosecutors dismissed three charges, including child seduction and obstruction of justice.
Bruce was sentenced to a year of probation, and upon successful completion of 275 days of probation without a violation, Bruce may petition for early release.
“The prosecutor’s decision to offer a plea bargain to Tyler Bruce is appalling,” said Lewis in a statement to WRTV Investigates. “The victim offered to share and relive the gory details of Tyler Bruce’s behavior and threats in front of a jury and leave it in their hands to assign an appropriate punishment.”
Bruce can also seek early expungement after three years as part of the plea agreement.
Stacy’s daughter is now 19 years old and attending college.
“It is disappointing that a victim is willing to go to this length to hold a predator accountable for their behavior while the prosecutor finds it unnecessary,” said Lewis. “The prosecutor’s role is to represent and protect the community and this plea is a failure to do so.”
Bruce was also accused of deleting information off of his phone before giving it to law enforcement.
Hendricks County Prosecutor Loren Delp said the prosecutor's office reached the agreement based on the "strength of the evidence collected" and the sentence is likely what it would have been after a jury trial.
You can read the full statement below:
The facts and circumstances of this case are extremely difficult. Our office takes these accusations extremely seriously. We reached this agreement based on the strength of the evidence collected and what the likely sentence would have been after a jury trial. The lead charge against the defendant was a level 6 felony. There are no guarantees at trial but even if the defendant were found guilty, in the State of Indiana level 6 felonies can be reduced to class A misdemeanors even if the prosecutor objects. Because the defendant lacked any criminal history, the result we reached today could have likely been the result after trial. The defendant admitting his guilt holds him accountable for his conduct, gives a measure of vindication to the victim and will likely prevent him from ever teaching again.
"Mr. Bruce maintained his innocence as this matter moved through the criminal justice system," said Bruce's attorney Joshua Adair in a statement to WRTV Investigates on Tuesday. "The dismissal of all the original charges only bolster Mr. Bruce's claim of innocence relating to those charges."
The Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office launched its investigation in May 2019 into Tyler Bruce after receiving an anonymous tip involving allegations of sexual misconduct with a student.
When the teen told Bruce she would not send him any more pictures, Bruce said if she didn't he would say she cheated on a math test, according to the notice of tort claim.
"He said, 'You know, I'm the head football coach, and no one is ever going to believe you,'" Stacy said. "He used intimidation, threats, academics. It pushed far beyond the line."
The tort claim notice says in March 2019, someone made an anonymous call about Bruce working out alone with the teenage girl, but nothing happened for two months.
In May 2019, a school resource officer at Tri-West High School observed what he believed was an inappropriate interaction between Bruce and the teen and reported the incident, according to the tort claim notice.
The Indiana Department of Education has filed a formal complaint against Bruce’s teaching license. WRTV contacted IDOE Tuesday for the latest on that process.
"I’ve confirmed that IDOE has an open, active case for Tyler Bruce," said Holly Lawson, Deputy Director of Communications at the Indiana Department of Education on Tuesday.
IDOE could suspend or revoke Bruce's teaching license, and the case will likely move forward now that the criminal case is resolved.
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Former Tri-West High School principal Adam Benner reached a pre-trial diversion agreement in November 2020 in which he admits he failed to report suspected child abuse or neglect, specifically the allegations involving Bruce and a student, as required by Indiana law.
The former Tri-West High School principal agreed to write an apology letter to the victim in the case, according to the agreement.
However, Stacy said her daughter has still not received an apology letter.
Several school employees were charged with failure to report the allegations involving Bruce.
Stacey Begle, former dean of students at Tri-West High School, and Nathan Begle, former athletic director at Tri-West High School, who are married, are both charged with Failure to Make a Report, a misdemeanor and their cases are still pending.
The federal government has also launched an investigation into whether the North West Hendricks School Corporation properly handles allegations of sexual harassment.
The United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights opened the Title IX investigation on Dec. 4, according to the agency’s website, for “sexual harassment” and “retaliation” within the school district.
Title IX is the 1972 federal civil rights law banning sexual discrimination in education, best known for breaking down barriers for women in sports.
Title IX also requires K-12 schools to address reports of sexual misconduct, a process that is completely separate from the criminal process.
The complaint also alleged North West Hendricks retaliated against people for reporting sexual harassment or objecting to the corporation’s responses to sexual harassment reports.
The district has faced criticism for how it has handled sexual misconduct allegations involving teacher and coach Tyler Bruce.
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If a school district is found in violation of Title IX, typically the school reaches an agreement with the Office for Civil Rights in which they agree on ways to improve.
If schools do not comply with Title IX, they can risk losing federal funding.