DANVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — The former principal of Tri-West High School has been formally charged with failing to report allegations about a possible relationship between a coach-teacher and a 17-year-old girl who was his aide.
Adam Benner, 43, was charged Wednesday with a misdemeanor in Hendricks Superior Court 2. No court date has been set for Benner’s case. He has not been arrested.
A spokeswoman for the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday she did not know if Benner will be summoned to court or if an arrest warrant will be issued. The prosecutor will argue those points, and the judge will ultimately decide, the spokeswoman said.
Benner resigned as principal in June.
Indiana law requires anyone, regardless of their professional capacity, to report any belief that a child is the victim of child abuse or neglect to the state Department of Child Services.
Court records say the school in Lizton in February received information via a new website, Quick Tips, created to allow students to anonymously submit concerns. The information relayed information about the teacher-coach, Tyler Bruce, and the 17-year-old girl.
One tip read, “I have heard the whole school saying Mr. Bruce and (the girl) are in a secret relationship of a sexual nature. Action should be taken immediately.”
Another tip noted Bruce and the girl had been seen working out alone together in the weight room with the door locked.
Bruce, 31, was charged Tuesday with two counts of child seduction and a count of obstruction of justice. He was booked into jail Tuesday night and released after paying a $500 bond, according to the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office. He was arrested Tuesday night at his home in Pittsboro. No court date has been set for Bruce.
The allegations against Bruce, which prompted a criminal investigation in May, led to an acrimonious atmosphere between the North West Hendricks public school district, its leadership and many people in the community. The district suspended Bruce with pay on May 28. On Wednesday, the district changed his status to unpaid suspension and announced plans to cancel Bruce’s contract.
Michael Springer retired from his job as the district’s superintendent in October. His departure was announced amid months of community controversy over the school board’s decision to keep Bruce on the job against Springer’s termination recommendation.
According to the charges against Benner, the Quick Tips information about Bruce and the girl was discussed at an administrators’ meeting March 1. At that meeting, Benner told other administrators that any further information about the possible relationship should go through him. Benner also said he and the athletics director, Nathan Begel, spoke to Bruce about no longer working out with the girl in a one-on-one setting.
Another administrator, after finding Bruce and the girl alone in his office with the lights off in early May, reviewed surveillance footage from the end of April and early May and found they were together in Bruce’s office on multiple occasions. After the footage was found, an assistant principal warned Bruce not be be alone with the girl under any circumstances.
The Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office first learned about a potential inappropriate relationship between Bruce and the girl in an anonymous call on May 12. A deputy contacted school administrators. Stacey Begel, the dean of students, told the deputy that the report was not “new information” and no formal report had been made to Child Services.
The Department of Child Services first learned about potential inappropriate conduct between Bruce and the girl in an anonymous call on May 17. The caller to Child Services said Benner and other school administrators were aware of the situation, court documents said. A Child Services caseworker met with the family May 24 at the home of the girl and her parents. Over the course of that meeting and another one later, the girl relayed information about her relationship with Bruce. She described inappropriate touching and social media exchanges.
Court documents said, “On November 4, 2019 a search warrant was requested and granted for Bruce’s school email account and personnel record. There was no indication of Benner making any contact with Bruce in any way regarding the concerns expressed via the QuickTips in February 2019. There was at least one email from Bruce to another teacher regarding (the girl). The teacher asked to speak with him in person rather than responding to the email.”
On Nov. 7, the deputy went to interview Benner, but he would not agree to be interviewed. Other Tri-West administrators had previously talked with investigators.
Details of what may have occurred between Bruce and the girl were first revealed in September in a complaint compiled by an Indiana Department of Education attorney. It said Bruce became involved with a female student who was in his math class and she interacted with him outside school hours as a coach’s aide. He asked the girl to use Snapchat to communicate with him “after his wife went to bed” because that way “there would not be proof.”
The Department of Education complaint said the girl sent naked photos of herself to Bruce after he repeatedly asked for them and threatened her grades. He also asked her to work out with him alone after school, encouraging her “to take ice baths after sporting events.” He would stay while she took the baths and ask her to remove some of her clothes. He also told the girl “she was too shy around him,” according to the Department of Education complaint.
The complaint states that Bruce on separate occasions touched the girl on the back, stomach, butt and pubic area.
The Department of Education has not announced any action regarding the complaint.
“North West Hendricks School Corporation and the Board of Trustees are grateful to the Hendricks County Sheriff and the Dept. of Child Protective Services for their efforts in investigating the charges against Tyler Bruce. Their thorough investigation has provided evidence that was previously unavailable and inaccessible to the board. The board finds this conduct egregious and contrary to everything the school district stands for.
“Based on this new information, the school administration has changed Mr. Bruce’s status to an unpaid suspension effective immediately and has given preliminary notice to Mr. Bruce that his contract will be canceled and employment terminated in accordance with I.C. 20-28-7.5. The status of Mr. Bruce’s teacher licensure is a separate issue that is handled by the Indiana Department of Education.
“This has created great division in our small community and the school board joins the community in its desire for a swift resolution to this matter. In the meantime, the board and administration are committed to restoring trust, aggressively reviewing policies and procedures and seeking remedies to bring harmony back to our community.
“The safety and security of our students is our foremost responsibility. We look forward to strengthening our community partnerships to protect them while providing the best possible education.
“There is no further comment at this time, but we will continue to share information as appropriate. For more information regarding this case, please contact the Hendricks Co. prosecutors’ office.”
Donna Petraits, communications consultant, North West Hendricks School Corp.