Charges: Former Cottage Grove school resource officer inappropriately touched, interacted with students
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A former Cottage Grove school resource officer is charged with several counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly touching students inappropriately.
Adam Gentile Pelton, 40, of River Falls, Wisconsin, is charged with three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and four counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Tony Townsend told KSTP he is a parent with a child at the school and found the allegations "disturbing" and "troubling" because Officer Pelton was in a position of authority and trust.
"Just knowing something like that's going on in our community is bad," said Pelton. "Having two kids in the district, yes, it is disturbing and kind of upsetting to the stomach."
Dustin Davis told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he has children in the district, and said even though they are not yet at Park High School it's unsettling to hear a police officer is the person charged with criminal sexual conduct.
"It is a trust thing and you just don't expect to see, or hear, these things happening," said Davis. "We will have a talk with our children, at some point, but it sure is going to be funky to see what happens with all of this, I guess."
A criminal complaint states Apple Valley police began investigating reports of sexual contact at Park High School in Cottage Grove on Oct. 4, 2019. Female students had reported that Pelton had touched their buttocks over their clothing.
Pelton, a Cottage Grove Police officer, was assigned to work as a school resource officer from 2016-2019 and was assigned to Park High School during the 2018-2019 school year and the following year until Oct. 3, 2019.
The complaint notes Pelton's private office in the school didn't have video surveillance, unlike the common areas in the school. It states numerous students told police Pelton would initiate hugs during the school day and his hugs were different inside his office than outside. It also states female students would have lunch in his office occasionally.
One female student at Park High School during the 2018-2019 school year said Pelton added her on Snapchat and would have conversations with her more appropriate for friends than a school resource officer, the complaint states. The student also said she'd spend time with other female students in Pelton's office during school days and he'd give them hugs and touch her buttocks over her clothing, even when she loosely wore a backpack to make it difficult for him to do so. The student also said she saw him do the same to other female students and they talked about it with each other.
In May 2019, the student, 17, said Pelton requested nude pictures over Snapchat two or three times but she never did so.
Another student told police that, in addition to Pelton touching her buttocks, he'd make inappropriate comments to her, calling her "beautiful" and "sweetheart," which the student proved from saved Snapchat messages. The student also said Pelton said if he were her age he'd date her and that they should make lunch plans during summer break, the complaint states.
When asked if they reported Pelton's actions, the student said, "We aren't going to say anything, I mean, he's a police officer," the complaint states.
The assistant principal expressed concern to law enforcement over Pelton's relationships with "at-risk" and "vulnerable" female students, and recalled in September 2019 when the second student was called to the office for appearing to be under the influence of alcohol. Pelton requested to speak to the student privately and the assistant principal returned a short time later and found them sitting face-to-face with their knees almost touching. The complaint states the assistant principal suggested Pelton have stronger boundaries with students moving forward. At that time, the student was under 18 years old.
A third student, who was under 16 years old, reiterated what the first two students told officers and added that she saw Pelton touch a female student's thigh one time.
A fourth student, who was also under 16 years old, also reiterated what the other students said. She added she would try to give Pelton one-armed "side hugs" when he requested a hug, but said he'd turn his body and initiate a full hug and his hand would drift and rest on her buttocks. The student estimated Pelton touched her buttocks three or four times per week during the 2018-2019 school year, and nine to 12 times during the following school year, the complaint states.
The student also told officers she felt so uncomfortable, she stopped going to Pelton's office, but he told her to come back. She also produced saved Snapchat messages with Pelton.
A fifth student, also under 16 years of age, added that she saw Pelton look at female students' breasts and buttocks.
A sixth student, under 18 years of age, said Pelton would initiate hugs multiple times per day, even if they were only apart for five minutes. She also stopped interacting with Pelton because she felt uncomfortable, the complaint states, but Pelton confronted her in class. Pelton also took her and another student out for lunch during summer break.
A seventh student, under 18 years old, said she felt uncomfortable with the hugs and attempted to give Pelton fist bumps instead, but he continued to ask for hugs.
On Dec. 4, 2019, Pelton told law enforcement part of his job was building relationships with students, which he did "by leaving his office door open, having a candy dish and speaking with students during class and at passing times."
The complaint states Pelton denied initiating hugs with students but said if they hugged him he wouldn't pull away. When shown surveillance video from school hallways that showed him initiating hugs, he agreed he likely initiated the contact.
It also states Pelton denied touching students' buttocks, even accidentally. He also denied asking students for nude pictures on Snapchat, but later said he asked one student "as a joke."
Pelton is on standard paid administrative leave.
Park High School sent families a letter stating a former school resource officer was charged with criminal sexual conduct.
The city of Cottage Grove issued the following statement to KSTP on Tuesday:
"The Cottage Grove Police Department is aware of the charges filed by prosecutors. As soon as allegations were brought forth, CGPD responded immediately with a preliminary investigation. Within 24 hours, the case was turned over to an outside agency to conduct an independent investigation. The Cottage Grove Police Department will be unable to comment on the case until it is resolved in the court system."
Pelton's first court appearance was Tuesday morning. His bail was set at $150,000 without conditions or $50,000 with conditions.
His next court appearance is set for March 2.