Family sues teacher, claims son was sexually abused. Now she’s been charged with rape

Crime Watch

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Tiffany Marie Petersen | Bannock County Jail

POCATELLO — A local educator has been arrested for allegedly raping a young child more than a decade ago.

Tiffany Marie Petersen was arrested Wednesday after being charged with felony rape and lewd conduct. Each charge carries a potential life sentence.

Not much is known about the criminal case, as a grand jury indicted Petersen on Tuesday. Details of the grand jury hearing have been sealed. She made her first court appearance Thursday.

However, some details are shown in an ongoing civil case that was filed against Petersen and her employer, Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25, by the parents of a former student.

Civil lawsuit against Petersen

The lawsuit, filed in August 2018, alleges the male victim was in Petersen’s first-grade class in 2008 at Washington Elementary.

The boy was allegedly subjected to physical, verbal and sexual abuse by Petersen and her boyfriend, who was not named in the lawsuit. The suit claims the boyfriend was allowed in the classroom.

“Pocatello School District 25 knew or should have known that allowing an unknown person, with an unknown background and proclivities, into an elementary school classroom would pose a threat to its students,” the lawsuit states.

The parents of the victim say they were concerned when their son became withdrawn during the first half of the 2008 semester. They say they began to suspect something was going on in Petersen’s classroom and brought their concerns to Steve Morton, who was the principal at the time, and Patti Mortenson, a then-District 25 school administrator.

The suit claims the school district didn’t take any action during the first semester of 2008. However, Petersen was transferred to a different school over the 2008 winter break.

No specifics of the alleged abuse were cited, but the suit claims the school district permitted or encouraged the victim’s alleged abuse by tolerating the abuse of minors, concealing and covering up the abuse of minors, allowing an unknown adult to have unsupervised contact with minors, failing to adopt policies and procedures to identify potential and actual sex offenders, and failing to properly investigate claims of abuse.

The parents also say that since 2008 the victim has suffered from physical and mental issues, trouble eating and severe anxiety that has prompted multiple trips to the emergency room. He has been on several medications for his behavioral issues and anxiety.

The victim’s parents are asking for a minimum of $10,000 in relief.

What the district says

In their response to the lawsuit, defense attorneys Daniel Skinner representing Petersen, and Brian Julian and Amy White, representing the district, denied all of the allegations made by the parents of the victim.

Following an inquiry from EastIdahoNews.com about Petersen, the school district sent a news release saying a teacher was placed on administrative leave indefinitely, starting Thursday.

However, the district has not confirmed the teacher who was placed on leave is Petersen.

Petersen is listed as faculty at Syringa Elementary School on the school district’s website. District spokeswoman Courtney Fisher did say the last time Petersen taught in a classroom with students was in January 2018.

“This is a decision that was in the best interest of our students and the district,” Superintendent Dr. Douglas Howell said in the news release. “As a public school district, we accept the responsibility to protect the safety and well-being of our students and staff in a positive learning environment. This is an obligation that we take very seriously, and one that prompts us to take swift, consistent action when necessary.”

Petersen has been released from jail on her own recognizance. She is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment on Tuesday.

CORRECTION: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated the name of the district’s attorney.

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