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Tri-West teacher deleted info from phone, removed sim card before giving it to cops, court docs say

Tyler Bruce has been charged with child seduction
tyler bruce.jpg
Posted at 10:59 AM, Jan 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-29 17:57:02-05

HENDRICKS COUNTY — New information released Wednesday shows why it took detectives eight months to arrest a teacher and coach accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a minor student.

Tri-West High School teacher and coach Tyler Bruce was arrested Tuesday on charges of child seduction and obstruction of justice. He was released the same night on a $500 bond.

The North West Hendricks School Corporation school board says Bruce is now on unpaid suspension and has given preliminary notice to him that his contract will be canceled and employment terminated, according to a statement from the district emailed to RTV6 Wednesday evening.

Bruce was on paid administrative leave for seven months after the North West Hendricks School Corporation school board voted 5-0 to place him on paid administrative leave back in July.

READ | Tri-West High School teacher, coach arrested for child seduction

Court documents filed Wednesday in Hendricks County, show that even though the allegations were made in May 2019, the sheriff's office did not execute a search warrant for Bruce's phone until July 12, 2019, to get photos that the alleged victim claimed were sent to Bruce at his request and to verify conversations that were allegedly had.

The victim told investigators that she had sent photos to Bruce and that he had made inappropriate comments and requests from her. She said she sent him inappropriate photos because she thought he would stop asking after he received them, court documents say.

According to those same court documents, when Bruce's attorney handed over his phone in accordance with the search warrant it was missing the sim card — which is the card that stores data on the phone. Although the sim card was removed, investigators were able to recover an image on the phone talking about how to permanently delete a Snapchat account.

Additional search warrants were sent to Apple and Snapchat to retrieve data that had been deleted from Bruce's phone. Those search warrants unveiled a phone call between the alleged victim and Bruce on February 27.

Eight months later, on January 23, 2020, the sheriff's office was provided with a new forensic download of Bruce's phone with updated software. The new software uncovered Snapchat data that showed a contact trail between Bruce and the alleged victim and the sheriff's office was able to issue an arrest warrant in the case.

Bruce was arrested on charges of child seduction, obstruction of justice and attempted child seduction on January 28, 2020.

The state has already started procedures to revoke Bruce's teaching license, though he has already received more than $13,495 in compensation while on paid administrative leave.

Call 6 Investigates spoke with Stacy and Mark Lewis of North Salem after they filed a tort claim on August 6 which alleges Bruce requested their 17-year old daughter to be his aide during the 2018-2019 school year and asked to exercise together in the weight room at Tri-West High School.

Bruce also asked her daughter to participate in the track team where he coached her, according to Stacy Lewis.

Bruce exchanged inappropriate messages with Stacy's daughter late at night on Snapchat, and touched her under her clothing on several occasions, read the tort claim.

When the teen told Bruce she would not send him any more pictures, Bruce said if she didn't he would say she cheated on a math test, according to the tort claim.

"He said, 'you know, I'm the head football coach, and no one is ever going to believe you,'" Stacy Lewis said. "He used intimidation, threats, academics. It pushed far beyond the line."

The tort claim says in March 2019, someone made an anonymous call about Bruce working out alone with the teenage girl, but nothing happened for two months.

In May 2019, a school resource officer at Tri-West High School observed what he believed was an inappropriate interaction between Bruce and the teen and reported the incident, according to the tort claim.

Bruce’s attorney, Joshua Adair, of Hostetter & Associates, issued a statement to RTV6 in August.

“Coach Bruce completely denies the allegations,” read the statement. “We do not intend to try this case in the court of public opinion, and we have no further comment at this time.”

The federal government has also launched an investigation into whether the North West Hendricks School Corporation properly handles allegations of sexual harassment.

The United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights opened the Title IX investigation on Dec. 4, according to the agency’s website, for “sexual harassment” and “retaliation” within the school district.

Title IX is the 1972 federal civil rights law that bans sexual discrimination in education, best known for breaking down barriers for women in sports.

Title IX also requires K-12 schools to address reports of sexual misconduct, a process that is completely separate from the criminal process.

The complaint also alleged North West Hendricks retaliated against people for reporting sexual harassment or objecting to the corporation’s responses to sexual harassment reports.

The district has faced criticism for how it has handled sexual misconduct allegations involving teacher and coach Tyler Bruce.

If a school district is found in violation of Title IX, typically the school reaches an agreement with the Office for Civil Rights in which they agree on ways to improve.

If schools do not comply with Title IX, they can risk losing federal funding.

The Office for Civil Rights will likely now collect interviews and analyze evidence from the district and from anyone who filed a complaint with their office.

They could find insufficient evidence that the district failed to comply with the law, or they could find that the district did not follow Title IX.

Call 6 Investigates reached out to the district’s communications consultant Donna Petraits for comment on the arrest. She said she had no comment to release at this time.

Jeff Gibson, an attorney representing the alleged victim and their family, released the following statement on behalf of the family:

We are encouraged that law enforcement along with the Hendricks County Prosecutor’s office are taking the necessary steps to hold Mr. Bruce accountable for his actions. As parents of students that attended Northwest Hendricks County School our number one concern is the safety of all students. Unfortunately, these criminal charges and the current federal investigation show the school system has a long way to go. We are hopeful that this is a first step in the right direction.

The family will have no further comment on this matter.

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