A girls basketball coach was fired from a private East Bay school and arrested on two felony counts after a police investigation revealed that she had sexual encounters with a minor.
The suspect has been identified as Catherine Handlin, a 24-year-old who coached a junior varsity basketball team at Walnut Creek-based Berean Christian High School, according to the Contra Costa Times.
The Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office has charged Handlin, who allegedly exchanged sexual texts with students, with sex with a minor. She is also accused of oral copulation with a minor, and, if convicted, would be forced to register as a sex offender.
Investigators began looking into Handlin on Jan. 8 after school officials received an anonymous tip of the former coach engaging in inappropriate conduct and alerted police.
Two male students – one who is 18 years old and the other 17 years old – told detectives that Handlin, who never coached them, sent them nude photographs, according to police.
Principal Nelson Noriega told the Contra Costa Times that students’ parents were informed about at the outset of the investigation. He followed up with another note explaining what had had happened, he said.
Detectives found that Handlin and the 17-year-old male student’s sexual encounters occurred in parked cars on Dec. 31 and again on Jan. 7, authorities told the newspaper. They also determined that her misconduct was limited only to the two students in question, and said that school officials cooperated with investigators.
Handlin is out of custody on $70,000 bail, police said. Her attorney told the newspaper that she is "taking responsibility" for "an unfortunate mistake in judgment."
Deputy district attorney Bruce Flynn, who leads the county's sex assault unit, described the charges as "wobblers" because prosecutors can deem them misdemeanors or felonies.
In Handlin’s case, which Flynn said isn’t as severe as other sex crimes – including rape and molestation – authorities decide to prosecute the charges as felonies.
"It's a position of trust issue, with a student and teacher or coach," Flynn told the Contra Costa Times. "That's the thing that's troubling about it."
For his part, Noriega admitted that this is his first brush with a sex scandal in a 40-year academic year. The experience has been "nerve-wracking," he said, adding that the school community is "grieving."
"It really breaks my heart," Noriega told the newspaper. "We're a faith-based school, and we're committed to our faith, and when we hire people, we vet them for their character.
"I'm saddened for her, but I'm also saddened for the students and how this is going to affect the rest of their lives."