A former gym teacher at a D.C. middle school agreed in court yesterday not to contest a criminal charge that he arranged to have a sexual encounter in a Maryland motel room with a 14-year-old female student.
Brandon C. Jones, 31, who taught at Backus Middle School in Northeast Washington, entered an Alford plea to a charge of third-degree sex offense in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. The plea means Jones did not admit guilt but conceded that the state had enough evidence to convict him.
The effect is the same as that of a guilty plea: Jones faces a sentence of as much as 10 years in prison and could be forced to register as a sex offender. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month by Judge Joseph P. Manck.
According to prosecutors, Jones's contact with the Backus student began in March, when she found out his cell phone number and sent him a text message.
She and Jones talked on the phone, prosecutors said, and eventually set a date to have sex at a Quality Inn in Silver Spring. That encounter was followed by two others in April at a Motel 6 in the Laurel area of Anne Arundel, prosecutors said.
Charging documents said that Jones, who was a basketball coach at the school, denied having exchanged text messages with the girl. But that was contradicted by phone records, which showed the two repeatedly exchanging calls and messages to each other, the documents said.
In court yesterday, a prosecutor said the girl was able to describe Jones's tattoos and navel ring to police.
After the court appearance, defense attorney Michael S. Blumenthal said Jones "steadfastly maintains his innocence." He said Jones agreed to the Alford plea in a deal to avoid prosecution in two other jurisdictions based on his alleged encounters with the girl.
Jones is accused of "enticement of a child," a felony, in the District. He is charged with two sex-offense counts in Montgomery County.
"The prospect of three distinct prosecutions was just too overwhelming," Blumenthal said.
He said that Jones disputed prosecutors' claims about the initial text message. But he declined to say more about his client's version of his relationship with the girl. Blumenthal said his client is no longer working at the middle school.
Under Maryland law, a third-degree sex offense includes any sexual act between a 14-year-old and anyone older than 21.
At least a half-dozen coaches or staff members at D.C. public schools have faced charges of improper sexual conduct with students in recent years. They have included an attendance counselor at Ballou Senior High School, the step-dance coach at H.D. Woodson Senior High School, a Savoy Elementary School janitor and a track coach at Ronald H. Brown Middle School.
Yesterday at Backus, on South Dakota Avenue NE, parent Sheila Anderson said she was bothered that a teacher would take advantage of a 14-year-old.
Anderson, whose 13-year-old daughter first came to Backus this fall, said she had talked to her daughter when similar accusations surfaced at other schools.
"It's a disturbing thing, and it's happening very often in elementary schools and high schools," Anderson said. "Something is very wrong when a grown man tries to pick up a teenager."
Tammy Reese, the mother of a seventh-grade girl, said she was unaware of the incident involving the gym teacher.
"It's terrible," she said. "I'm glad he's not here anymore."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.