POCATELLO — For the second time in less than a year, a Pocatello teacher has been charged with a sex crime.
Ricardo “Rick” Rafael Torres, a former fifth-grade teacher at Grace Lutheran Elementary School in Pocatello, has been charged with one count of misdemeanor sexual battery in connection to an incident that allegedly happened on the school’s playground and involved one of his female students, according to Pocatello police records.
The name and age of the alleged student victim will not be released, police said.
Torres, 49, of Pocatello, was charged with sexual battery on Nov. 7 following a Pocatello police investigation that stemmed from the Sept. 27 playground incident.
Torres was initially placed on administrative leave from Grace Lutheran Elementary School and has since been terminated, Grace Lutheran Executive Director Robert Raschke told the Journal on Wednesday.
Before Torres was criminally charged, he retained Pocatello attorney Stratton Laggis to represent him, police said.
The investigation into the playground incident included both an interview police observed between the alleged student victim and a licensed sexual abuse counselor as well as a police interview with Torres with Laggis present.
Torres appeared in front of Judge Richard Garbett Tuesday afternoon for an arraignment hearing at the Bannock County Courthouse during which Torres pleaded not guilty to the sexual battery charge, court records say.
The alleged sexual battery occurred on Sept. 27 during recess on the playground at Grace Lutheran Elementary School and involved one female student, police said. As the alleged victim was being carried by another student, Torres allegedly smacked the alleged victim on the buttocks, police said.
The alleged victim began to cry when this happened and immediately told another teacher about the incident, police said. Torres told police that he spoke to the other teacher about the incident and then later had a conversation with Raschke about what had allegedly occurred, police said.
During his conversation with Raschke, Torres was advised it would be a good idea for him to apologize to the alleged victim, which he promptly did, police said.
Torres contacted the female student’s father via telephone on the same day of the incident to explain what had happened and later apologized for his conduct during a face-to-face meeting with the father and mother, police said. On Sept. 30, Raschke contacted Torres and explained to him that the incident had been reported to police.
The Sept. 27 incident was not the first time Torres had allegedly touched the female student in a way that made her feel uncomfortable, police said. During an overnight camping trip to Camp Perkins in Stanley, Torres allegedly grabbed the same female student from the Sept. 27 incident, placed her between his legs and started tickling her side and armpits, police said.
The female student told police that her mother witnessed this incident and later spoke to Torres about how the way he touched the female student was inappropriate, police said.
Police did not indicate in their reports when this Camp Perkins incident occurred.
Furthermore, the female student told police that Torres often made her feel uncomfortable in class, allegedly touching her on the shoulder whenever he came by her desk to answer questions, and on one occasion touching her on the upper inner thigh, police said. The female student also told police that Torres allegedly told her several times that she was “lucky to be so pretty” and that she “was a hot mess,” police said.
“Whenever Torres was around her, walked by her or got close to her, (the female student) thought to herself, ‘Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me,’” police said in one of their reports about the playground incident.
Torres told police that he did not recall ever saying anything inappropriate to the female student and never touched her on the shoulder or thigh.
Torres was placed on administrative leave by Grace Lutheran Elementary School on Oct. 3 in response to the police investigation and was subsequently terminated by the school earlier this month when the sexual battery charge was filed against him.
During Torres’ court hearing on Tuesday, Garbett issued a no-contact order between Torres and the alleged victim.
According to state law, misdemeanor sexual battery “is any willful physical contact, over or under the clothing, with the intimate parts of any person and when the physical contact is done without consent and with the intent to degrade … the person touched, or with the intent of arousing, appealing to or gratifying the lust, passion or sexual desires of the actor or any other person.”
The Idaho Legislature in 2018 approved that statute defining sexual battery as a criminal offense.
This is the second time this year a Pocatello teacher has been charged with a sex crime. In January, Syringa Elementary School teacher Tiffany Marie Petersen, 46, of Pocatello, was charged with one count of rape and one count lewd conduct against a child under 16, both felonies.
Petersen is accused of raping and molesting one of her first-grade students over 10 years ago inside her classroom while she worked at Washington Elementary School in Pocatello.
Petersen is expected to take her case to trial in February. She faces up to life in prison if convicted of the charges against her.
Both Washington and Syringa elementary schools are part of Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25. Grace Lutheran Elementary School is a private school that serves the Pocatello area.
Torres is due back in court for a pre-trial hearing on Dec. 12.
If convicted of sexual battery, Torres faces up to one year in jail and up to $2,000 in fines.