Ex-Crater teacher faces misconduct charges
CENTRAL POINT — Former Crater High School science teacher Sarah Louise Swanson-Suhrstedt was arrested Thursday on a charge of official misconduct alleging she had an inappropriate sexual relationship with an 18-year-old male student.
Central Point police arrested Swanson-Suhrstedt, 28, Thursday morning after a 31/2—month investigation by the police department, the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force and School District 6.
Swanson-Suhrstedt was placed on administrative leave March 2 and voluntarily resigned on April 1, before the investigation was completed.
At the time allegations were made in February, District 6 officials notified police as well as the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the agency that enforces professional standards of conduct for educators.
Central Point Police Capt. Chuck Newell said Swanson-Suhrstedt had not yet made an official statement to police and is being represented by the Jackson County Public Defender's Office.
"After our three-and-a-half month investigation, we arranged for her to come down at 8 a.m. and we transported her to Jackson County Jail, where she processed herself and was released on bail," Newell said.
While police said the alleged relationship happened during the school year, but off the school campus, Newell said the case was unique because the relationship took place while the 18-year-old was still a student.
"There is no specific law to reference in terms of the relationship, (which) was consensual between both of them, but because the teacher is a public servant, there's a trust issue," said Newell.
Citing confidentiality, District 6 officials said in a news release on Thursday that Swanson-Suhrstedt was no longer a district employee and that the district could not comment on the investigation because district policy prohibits discussion of personnel issues.
During the investigation, the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force forensically analyzed several cellphones and computers looking for evidence, and detectives interviewed several students, Newell said.
Based on the combination of evidence and student statements, police arrested Swanson-Suhrstedt on one count of first-degree official misconduct, a charge that applies when a public servant knowingly performs an act constituting an unauthorized exercise of official duties with the intent to obtain a benefit, including personal sexual gratification.
Melody Hanson, director of professional practices for the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, confirmed an investigation is being conducted into the allegations against Swanson-Suhrstedt.
"We got this March 28 and assigned it to an investigator. It is not scheduled to go to the commission yet. We usually wait for all the legal processing to be completed," Hanson said.
"Each case is unique and based on its own merits. When we receive information that an educator has violated the standards, it's assigned to an investigator. There are a range of sanctions that could be imposed, ranging from public reprimand ... to their license being revoked."
A Web search shows Swanson-Suhrstedt was married in May 2010 to Central Point resident Jeremy Suhrstedt, a Marine Corps veteran, and lists Suhrstedt as receiving her bachelor's and master's degrees from Southern Oregon University.
According to state teaching records, Swanson-Suhrstedt was licensed to teach in September 2010.
Newell said rumors in the community had compared Swanson-Suhrstedt's case to that of school resource officer Dan Brown, accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a Crater High School student two years ago.
"Some people have tried to make the correlation, but what's different between this case and the SRO case with the 18-year-old was that he was having a relationship with a student who was no longer in school," said Newell. "Had that student still been enrolled in school, it would have changed everything."
Newell said Central Point Police filed the criminal against Swanson-Suhrstedt after confirming that the District Attorney's Office would pursue the case.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.