State finds no misconduct by former Little Butte teacher

The state's teacher licensing agency has dismissed a complaint against former Little Butte teacher and counselor Joel Heller regarding accusations he alleged molested students while working in the Eagle Point School District.

No criminal charges were filed against Heller, and he has consistently maintained his innocence, his attorney Brett Mersereau said.

"Three different law enforcement agencies (including the Jackson County District Attorney's office) reviewed the case and declined to file charges," Mersereau said.

But Heller, along with Mae Richardson Elementary Principal Lynn Scott, Eagle Point Superintendent Cynda Rickert and the Eagle Point School District were named codefendants in a federal civil suit filed by Medford Attorney Tom Petersen that alleges Heller molested two girls in his classroom in fall 2011. The suit also alleges that school administrators knew Heller had a pattern of abusive behavior and failed to protect the students.

Petersen filed the civil suit in U.S. District Court in Medford in December 2012 on behalf of two unidentified girls who allege that Heller repeatedly restrained and molested them during class and recess time in 2011. Petersen also filed the complaint with the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission against Scott and Heller on behalf of his clients. The complaint against Scott was dismissed last week.

The TSPC received the complaint about Heller on Feb. 28, performed its investigation and on Nov. 8 reviewed the findings. It is dismissing the allegations included in the complaint because it was "unable to find sufficient cause to charge the educator with misconduct pursuant to Oregon statutes, according to a letter from Victoria Chamberlain, TPSC executive director.

Because the case against Heller was dismissed, Chamberlain said the documents, reports and findings of the investigation will remain confidential.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke in October ordered the release of Scott, Rickert and Heller's personnel files in the ongoing civil case, but he placed a gag order on the information.

— Sanne Specht

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