Prosecutors charge Kent-Meridian track coach, teacher with sex crime
By STEVE HUNTER
Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter
December 14, 2011 · Updated 4:30 PM
King County prosecutors Thursday charged a Kent-Meridian High School track coach and teacher with communication with a minor for immoral purposes.
Prosecutors claim that Ernie Ammons, 36, of Black Diamond, allegedly sent "sexually explicit" text messages to a 16-year-old girl, a student at the school, according to charging papers.
"The defendant engaged in sexually explicit text messaging with the 16-year-old victim," wrote Charles Sergis, senior deputy prosecutor, in the charging papers. "He did so knowing both her age and the fact that she was a former student of his. His actions not only violated the law, but the trust placed in educators to teach and nurture students, not to groom them for sex."
The Kent School District placed Ammons on paid administrative leave Nov. 8 when the allegations first came to the district's attention, said district spokesman Chris Loftis. Ammons has been removed from his coaching duties as head track and cross country coach.
"He is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the proceedings against him," Loftis said in a Friday phone interview. "It's in the court's hands now."
Ammons is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 22 at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Kent Police cited Ammons at-large Dec. 6. Prosecutors have asked that bail be set at $50,000 and that Ammons be prohibited from teaching, coaching, volunteering or holding any position of authority over minors while the case is pending.
Ammons led the Kent-Meridian boys track team to its first state track title last May when they captured the Class 4A meet. He has coached track and field at Kent-Meridian for eight years. He led the boys track team to a second-place trophy at state in 2009. He coached the school's cross country teams as well and helped lead the girls team to its first state appearance in November. They placed 16th.
The district plans to post a job opening Jan. 4 for a new head coach in track and cross country, Loftis said.
Ammons teaches health and physical education at Kent-Meridian. His classes this year included health and weight training. The district hired Ammons in 2004 and he has taught for all eight years at the school.
The series of text messages were exchanged between Ammons and the girl from June 27 through Nov. 6. In an Oct. 13 text message, Ammons asked the girl to meet him for sex in the school's weight room before school. The two also exchanged messages about Ammons paying the girl cash for sex.
The case came to the attention of school officials in early November when a student at another school who knows the 16-year-old girl contacted Kent-Meridian Principal Wade Barringer about inappropriate conversations between a health teacher at the school and a student. The teacher was later identified as Ammons.
Barringer talked to Ammons about the allegations, according to court documents. Ammons told Barringer the phone contacts with the student started on Facebook and the contact continued via text messaging.
The teacher told Barringer that he had exchanged text messages with the girl asking for money for sex. Ammons said he never intended to act on the suggestion, but he was afraid to stop texting the girl out of fear that she would expose him.
School officials contacted Kent Police Nov. 8 about the allegations and the police investigation started. Detectives gathered cellphone records and emails that showed Ammons had contacted the girl. Detectives found as many as 46 calls between the girl's phone and Ammons' phone from June 27 to Oct. 24. Several more text exchanges occurred after Oct. 24.
Barringer sent a letter to Kent-Meridian parents Friday to notify them about the allegations against a teacher at the school (see letter below story), although he did not name the teacher in the letter.
Loftis sent a district letter Thursday to all staff about the incident. Loftis also sent a statement to the Kent Reporter about the case.
"We can’t let the alleged bad acts of one person reflect on the great work of over 3,300 people who come to work every day with character, kindness and professionalism," Loftis said.
Ammons also has volunteered as an assistant Green River Community College men's and women's cross country and track coach in Auburn since 2009. His wife, Tori Ammons, is the head GRCC cross country and track coach.
Ernie Ammons helped coach GRCC Nov. 12 at the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges cross country championship meet. GRCC officials have not yet determined if Ammons will be allowed to return as a volunteer coach.
"That depends on the outcome," GRCC spokesman John Ramsey said about the charge against Ammons.
Ramsey said the college did not find out about the investigation of Ammons until the story appeared this week on the Kent Reporter website.
• Letter from Kent-Meridian Principal Wade Barringer to parents about sex crime allegations against one of his teachers (Ernie Ammons):
Dear Parent or Guardian:
I am writing to give you information about a situation at Kent-Meridian High School. An allegation has been made that a teacher had an inappropriate relationship with a student. The teacher was immediately removed from the classroom, placed on administrative leave with instructions not to contact students or staff other than administrators or union representatives until this matter is fully resolved.
The district contacted the Kent Police Department immediately upon learning of the situation and has been cooperating fully in the investigation. We have taken the appropriate steps to ensure the student’s safety, to assist law enforcement with the investigation, and to honor the presumption of innocence for the teacher involved that our legal system demands.
This situation is likely to gain media attention and media may stage near campus to interview families and students. We are working to minimize any distractions to quality education at Kent-Meridian. District officials are refraining from commenting on the specifics of the case due to the continuing legal process, and the privacy of both the student and teacher. You may wish to advise your child in this regard. We recognize that situations such as this, while rare, are difficult for all concerned and it is important we set an example for our students as we deal with this issue.
If you have questions about this situation, please feel free to contact Executive Director of Communications Chris Loftis at 253-373-7524.
Please know that your child’s safety is always our number one priority.
Dr. Wade Barringer
Kent-Meridian High SchoolContact Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter Steve Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-872-6600, ext. 5052.