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Former Tri-West employee shares why he reported teacher’s alleged sexual misconduct

Posted: 6:00 AM, Mar 04, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-05 19:58:04-05

HENDRICKS COUNTY — A former Tri-West High School employee is speaking out about alleged sexual misconduct within the North West Hendricks School Corporation.

Attendance secretary David Pyatt spoke exclusively with Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney when he was working for the school district and shared surveillance videos that prompted him to contact the authorities.

"This will happen again to our children if I don't speak up,” Pyatt said. “This isn't just rumors. I saw it with my own eyes."

Tri-West teacher and coach Tyler Bruce is charged with child seduction and obstruction of justice in connection with an alleged inappropriate relationship with a now 17-year-old student.

RELATED | April trial date set for Tri-West teacher charged with child seduction

Pyatt has worked in law enforcement for 17 years and, until Tuesday, was the attendance secretary at Tri-West High School, which means he’s had access to the school’s surveillance video system to track students coming in and out of the building.

“I used my phone to record them,” Pyatt said. “I saved them because I was afraid they would not make the effort to secure the evidence.”

The district fired Pyatt on Tuesday, in part because Pyatt "confiscated confidential student information from the school and disclosed it to the news media, in violation of federal privacy law," read a termination letter provided to RTV6 by Pyatt. "In addition to violating law and policy, your action in disclosing confidential information likely compromised an ongoing legal case and re-traumatized a victim."

Pyatt said the surveillance video shows Tyler Bruce and the student, who was 16 at the time, alone together in his office.

In charging documents filed against Bruce, Hendricks County prosecutors mention the surveillance video and what Pyatt saw.

Call 6 Investigates is blurring the student’s face because she is a minor, but her parents confirmed that is their daughter in the videos and they want RTV6 to show the footage.

The female student was a teacher’s aide to Bruce, court records show.

On May 2, the surveillance cameras were rolling as Bruce and the 16-year old student went into his office.

May2ScreenShot.PNG
A screenshot of Tri-West High School surveillance footage showing a student entering Tyler Bruce's office.

Pyatt slightly sped up the footage when he recorded it as a time-saving measure.

“The lights go off,” Pyatt said. “That’s the first time I saw them.”

The surveillance video shows Pyatt and his daughter walking by Bruce’s office on May 2.

"I could see her sitting there and Coach Tyler Bruce was there in the office with her,” Pyatt said. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in a dark office with a student especially a female. I feel like if you asked 100 adults in a room who would do that, nobody would raise their hand.”

Pyatt said a similar incident happened the next day.

The surveillance video appeared to show Bruce and the same 16-year old entering his office at 2:45 pm on May 3.

“You see the lights go out,” Pyatt said. “It’s just dumbfounding. It’s just — how?”

May3ScreenShot.PNG
A screenshot of Tri-West High School surveillance footage showing a student entering Tyler Bruce's office.

It’s unclear what happened in that room — the cameras do not show that.

Court documents filed by prosecutors accuse Bruce of touching the female student underneath her clothing on several occasions, including when they were alone together.

Hendricks County prosecutors outlined one incident in May when the student was in his office.

She was with Bruce in a classroom as his aide. They were alone. She was sitting down, and he was sitting next to her. VICTIM 1 stated Bruce slid his hand up her dress and he followed the line of her underwear with his hand along her thigh towards her buttocks. Later that night, he asked why she was wearing underwear that day. He told her if she was not wearing underwear he could have gone further. She reported he sent that message through Snapchat.

In another incident, prosecutors allege the 16-year old was in Bruce’s office on the computer when Bruce pulled her close and put one hand in her shirt and placed it on her stomach, directly on her skin.

“He moved his hand around in a circular motion,” read the probable cause affidavit. “She felt scared and could not move because she had never had a teacher touch her like that before.”

Pyatt said he’s not the only school employee who saw Bruce and the alleged victim together in Bruce’s office.

The May 3 video appears to show athletic director Nathan Begle peek his head into the room.

"You see when he comes out he's kind of smiling and laughing, and then he goes back in and talks again," Pyatt said.

Pyatt said this is problematic because court documents show the school became aware of the allegations months prior, in February, and Begle knew Bruce was not to be alone with the teen.

Court documents filed by prosecutors show Begle and other administrators discussed Bruce at a March 1 meeting and were told Bruce was not to be with the female student in a one-on-one setting.

“The athletic director knows that and he's sitting there talking!" Pyatt said. “He was aware that she was back there.”

Pyatt said he didn’t immediately report because he learned the female student was assigned to be Bruce's aide, and other staff were aware of that.

But two weeks later, that changed when he had a meeting with dean of students Stacey Begle, who is married to athletic director Nate Begle.

"She divulged some things in that meeting that gave me even more concern," Pyatt said.

Pyatt then contacted the Indiana Department of Child Services.

“I told them I suspected there was an inappropriate relationship between the victim and Tyler Bruce,” Pyatt said. “I believed the administration was not doing their due diligence in reporting it."

Shortly after Pyatt’s report to DCS, the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office launched a criminal investigation.

DCS determinations are not public record.

The criminal investigation resulted in Hendricks County prosecutors charging Bruce in January with child seduction and obstruction of justice.

Bruce denies the allegations and has refused to answer any questions from Call 6 Investigates.

Pyatt said he doesn’t think Bruce would have been investigated by law enforcement had he not reported his concerns.

“Oh, not a chance,” Pyatt said. “He’s a symptom of a bigger problem at that school. Bruce definitely needs to be arrested and to answer for what he did, but that’s just the beginning of what needs to be done.”

Former Tri-West principal Adam Benner was also charged with failing to make a report about the Bruce matter.

RELATED | Ex-principal charged with failure to make a report in child seduction case

Pyatt said Benner blew him off when confronted about Bruce.

"He said ‘We've turned over every stone, so you can rest assured, we found no wrongdoing,’” Pyatt said. “I said, 'No, it's actually the opposite.' I said, 'It proves you're not doing everything you're supposed to do.'"

Neither Benner nor his attorney have responded to requests for comment from RTV6.

When the allegations came to light last summer, the school board voted to keep Bruce on paid administrative leave despite then-superintendent Mike Springer’s recommendation to fire Bruce.

RELATED | Hendricks County parents question school board over handling of sexual assault allegations

Springer released the following statement in response to Pyatt’s interview with Call 6 Investigates.

As the former superintendent and a current taxpayer within the school district, I was and I am grateful to Dave Pyatt for his commitment to exposing the truth surrounding this situation. Mr. Pyatt’s reaction and response to what he saw and heard in May 2019 was the reaction and response that TWHS administrators should have had, but did not have and to my knowledge, still have not had. In addition, I continue to be deeply concerned by the lack of personal responsibility from the North West Hendricks School Board of Trustees. The board members clearly chose to ignore the facts and the evidentiary standard that should have guided their actions this past summer. The divisiveness within the community was not caused by holding Mr. Bruce and administrators accountable. It was caused by the blatantly biased actions of the school board members. Parents and community members are justified in requesting their resignations.

Springer also put Stacey and Nathan Begle on administrative leave in July for how they handled the Bruce matter.

PREVIOUS | School board decides Tri-West employees can return to school

But the school board voted in September to allow them to return to their positions, despite Springer’s recommendation to fire the Begles.

On February 28, the school district announced the Begles were placed on paid administrative leave following a complaint filed by the Indiana Department of Education.

IDOE is seeking to suspend the teaching licenses of the Begles and Benner for not reporting Bruce’s alleged inappropriate behavior to DCS or law enforcement.

The Begles have not responded to inquiries from RTV6.

Former superintendent Mike Springer resigned amidst conflict with the school board over how they handled the Bruce matter.

PREVIOUS | Outgoing superintendent to receive $116K in compensation

The district now has an interim superintendent, Dr. Scott Syverson.

Pyatt said he saved the surveillance video and shared it with law enforcement because he didn’t trust the school corporation to preserve the footage.

When he sat down with Call 6 Investigates last month, he was aware that speaking out could jeopardize his position as attendance secretary.

“If they fire me, they fire me,” Pyatt said. “It’s time the public hears from someone that was in it. So much of this stuff was brushed under the rug.”

After Pyatt did an interview with RTV6, Pyatt was reprimanded on March 2 for "insubordinate emails" he sent to a supervisor and on March 3 he forwarded the reprimand to the entire school district, both which violated board policy, read Pyatt's termination letter.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Scott Syverson also listed Pyatt's interview with RTV6 in the termination letter, saying Pyatt had previously claimed he had deleted the footage from his phone.

In charging documents filed against Bruce in January, Hendricks County prosecutors mention David Pyatt saw Bruce and the female student in his office with the lights off, and that Pyatt reviewed the surveillance video and found more instances.

“On May 3, Pyatt began to review surveillance footage taken from the athletic hall after his direct observations made him concerned,” read the probable cause affidavit. “On the surveillance footage, he observed VICTIM 1 and Bruce alone together in Bruce’s office with the lights out on many occasions throughout the end of April and beginning of May, which was as far back as the footage was saved.”

The now 17-year-old student has since left Tri-West High School.

Her family, Stacy and Mark Lewis, said they pulled her out due to how she was treated when the Bruce allegations came to light.

They’ve filed a tort claim against the district alleging they failed to protect her.

PREVIOUS | Hendricks County mother says school failed to protect her teen daughter from teacher, coach

The Lewis family and their attorney, Jeff Gibson, released a statement to Call 6 Investigates.

This video appears to be yet another example of Tri West and North West Hendricks County School Corporation's institutional failures. According to the probable cause affidavit, the school district was on notice of multiple allegations involving Tyler Bruce months before this video. The fact the school did absolutely nothing for months is concerning. Even more troubling is that an attendance officer had to contact DCS and the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department because multiple teachers and administrators refused to do so. A duty of every school district should be the protection of all students, something Tri West and North West Hendricks County School Corporation failed to do.

“The parents of this community should be gravely concerned about what’s going on right now at the school and changes that haven’t been made to stop another Tyler Bruce,” Pyatt said.

The federal Office for Civil Rights is currently investigating the North West Hendricks School Corporation for how it handles sexual harassment allegations.

RELATED | Feds investigate handling of sexual harassment allegations at NWHSC

Pyatt said the district also needs to do a full investigation into who knew about Bruce and the 17-year-old and didn’t report it.

“My biggest fear is — that this continues and gets worse,” Pyatt said. “I have two daughters one in elementary school and one in primary school. To me, if we don’t change the culture, it’s going to happen again.”

Pyatt said everyone can learn something from this case, whether you live in the district or not.

“If you’re a parent and a student says something — take it at face value,” Pyatt said. “Go the extra mile until you’re 100% sure you know what happened. When someone says a teacher is acting funny — look into it and don’t worry about making people mad.”

After he was criminally charged, Tyler Bruce was placed on unpaid suspension and the board is taking steps to fire him.

School board members have denied requests from Call 6 Investigates to discuss the Bruce matter and have referred inquiries to the district’s paid communications consultant, Donna Petraits.

Call 6 Investigates contacted Petraits on February 14 asking if she would be willing to sit down with RTV6 to go over the surveillance video from Tri-West High School showing Bruce and the alleged victim.

RTV6 also let Petraits know we spoke with an employee who alleges the current climate is still not conducive to protecting children.

Petraits responded with a written statement.

I believe seeing the video and commenting on it on camera potentially compromises this case. We have not viewed the video in question, but believe this video is part of an ongoing criminal case and/or contains information subject to student privacy laws. NWHSC has been and will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement and the Hendricks County prosecutor to assure justice is served in a court of law and not the court of public opinion.

The district's paid communications consultant sent an additional statement to RTV6 and other media outlets three hours before the broadcast story was scheduled to air.

NWHSC Release 03042020 (Text)

TIMELINE:

RTV6 also reached out to Hendricks County prosecutor Loren Delp who said ethical rules prevent him from talking to us about evidence in this case.

At this point, no one else has been charged besides Bruce and Benner.

RELATED | Sexual harassment expert 'shocked, troubled' by Tri-West child seduction case

More than 100 citizens have signed a petition calling for the resignation of the school board.

Board president Jim Diagostino and board member Craig Peoples are both up for re-election this November.

The district recently told RTV6 it is taking steps to better train its staff.

Besides a thorough policy review, NWHSC has taken multiple dynamic steps to assure compliance with Title IX including:

• Retained the law firm of Church, Church, Hittle and Antrim to provide Title IX training for all district administrators.

• Joined the Association of Title IX Administrators, a national organization that helps school districts more effectively serve their communities through training and best practices.

• Approved a district administrator as the Title IX Coordinator and approved training.

• Approved the use of Safe Schools Training for all staff.

• Committed to having all staff trained through the Safe Schools modules within the year.