On the stand, former principal denies improperly touching alleged victim

CALDWELL — Former Fruitland High Principal Mike Fitch denied he improperly touched a female employee or solicited her for sex when he took the stand in his sexual battery trial Thursday.

Former Fruitland High School principal Michael Fitch sits with his defense attorney Wednesday during his trial for charges of sexual battery and soliciting a prostitute. Idaho EdNews photo by Sami Edge.

However, Fitch admitted to sending the alleged victim numerous photos of his penis and videos of him masturbating. Sometimes, Fitch testified, he sent her lewd photos and stories via email during the school day while both of them were supposed to be working.

Referencing earlier testimony, prosecutors suggested one of the photos or videos might have been taken on school grounds. Fitch denied this, but said he wasn’t sure where the video was taken.

“I sent several pictures and videos, that’s not a secret,” Fitch said.

Thursday marked the second day of testimony in Fitch’s case. The former school administrator and basketball coach faces two counts of sexual battery and one count of soliciting prostitution. All three charges are misdemeanors.

Prosecutors allege that Fitch forced the woman’s hand onto his clothed genitals without her consent, grabbed her buttocks without her consent and offered to pay the woman a fee in exchange for sexual conduct.

Fitch denied all three charges, saying the touching never happened and that the woman was either lying or mistaken. As for the solicitation charge, Fitch said he and the woman were merely discussing a friend of a friend’s encounter with a prostitute when they both wondered how much prostitutes charge. Fitch then admitted to saying the alleged victim would be worth much more than that amount.

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It is Idaho Education News’ policy to not name alleged sexual assault victims without their consent.

Fitch said he and the woman exchanged flirtatious, sexually charged messages frequently over the course of at least a couple of months. Fitch said they did not have sex or otherwise physically act on their suggestive messages, although he testified that he believed they both wanted to.

While Fitch denied committing crimes, he said he was married and knew it was wrong to send lewd photos, videos and messages to his employee.

“Unfortunately, at this point, I made decisions that destroyed my career, my family and my reputation,” Fitch said.

While Thursday’s testimony focused on Fitch’s side of the story, Wednesday was about the alleged victim. For about six hours Wednesday, she took the stand and described how she felt pressured to play along with her boss’ unwanted sexual advances out of fear of losing her job.

Throughout the trial, the central question has been whether the conduct and relationship between Fitch and the woman was consensual or not. Fitch maintained the woman was an enthusiastic participant who escalated their relationship in a series of flirtatious, sexually-charged emails and instant messages.

Payette County Prosecuting Attorney Ross Pittman suggested Fitch “prompted” the victim and sent so many lewd photos and videos that Fitch couldn’t recall when and where they were taken. Fitch responded that the events took place a year ago and he just didn’t remember.

On Wednesday, the woman testified she felt uncomfortable, wanted Fitch to stop and did not consent to touching.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to do this, I have a boyfriend, I don’t want to do this, several times,’” the woman said in court Wednesday.

Fitch was the final witness to take the stand Thursday. Prosecutors rested their case Thursday after lunch, while the defense rested after calling Fitch as its lone witness in the afternoon.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Friday morning in Canyon County. On Friday, the defense and prosecution are expected to deliver closing arguments and turn the matter over to the jury. The jury  consists of three men and three women after a female juror was excused Thursday morning.

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