In the opening arguments of a multi-day trial for former Fruitland High School principal Mike Fitch, who is charged with sexual battery of another employee at the school, lawyers established the central rift of their arguments: consent.
In court on Wednesday lawyers attempted to paint vastly different pictures of the relationship between the former principal and his employee.
Payette County Prosecutor Ross Pittman said the woman was a single mother, afraid of speaking out about an inappropriate relationship with her boss that had escalated quickly and gone too far, for fear of losing her job. Fitch barraged her with pornography and sexually explicit messages, the woman testified in court, and she felt trapped without a way to end things.
Defense attorney Mistie Bauscher cast the relationship in a different light. She insinuated the relationship was an affair and questioned the woman about her participation in sexually explicit messaging and emailing with Fitch.
“I played along at first. I did,” the woman said from the stand. “I flirted and I played along but then it turned into this crazy — it was erotic stories and everything was about sex.”
The woman said that she responded to Fitch’s advances over email and messenger because she felt she had to play along, but she wanted them to stop. She never wanted Fitch to touch her, and didn’t consent when he did. She said “no” when he asked for sex acts in person.
At the heart of the case are three incidents for which Fitch is facing charges. Two are counts of misdemeanor sexual battery, where Fitch is accused of grabbing the woman’s buttocks in her office at Fruitland high, and placing her hand on his crotch at school.
The third charge is for patronizing a prostitute, which in Idaho, includes when someone “pays or offers or agrees to pay another person a fee for the purpose of engaging in an act of sexual conduct or sexual contact.”
The woman says Fitch offered her money for sexual favors, which she denied.
Idaho Education News does not name alleged victims of sexual assault without their permission.
All three of these incidents are alleged to have happened between late September and October of 2018, shortly after the woman started working at Fruitland High. To build their cases surrounding the incidents, lawyers are relying on a broken string of communication between Fitch and the woman. They have emails between the two, but were not able to recover more extensive conversations on Google Hangouts or Snapchat to build a full picture.
In court on Wednesday, Bauscher read jurors extremely explicit messages from emails between Fitch and the woman, some of which she had printed and pasted to large poster boards to display in the courtroom. She argued that by sending sexual emails, and a photo of herself to Fitch, the woman gave the impression she was interested in a sexual relationship with Fitch during the timeframe that the alleged sexual battery incidents occurred.
“You took it to the next level, sexually, a lot of different times in the emails,” the defense attorney said.
“I was just responding,” the woman replied.
The woman only replied to some of Fitch’s emails, she said, because Fitch would get upset if she didn’t reply. She felt pressured by Fitch, her boss, to keep the conversation going.
“I didn’t know how to get out of it,” the woman said repeatedly in court.
Under cross examination the woman said that she may not have explicitly told Fitch “don’t touch me” or told him to stop sending explicit messages, but that she had told him she wasn’t comfortable with their relationship. She never gave him permission to touch her, she said.
“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. “It didn’t work.”
A few months after these incidents began, the woman said, she confided in the athletic director of Fruitland High School, Beth Holt, who went to police. The Fruitland School District put Fitch on leave in late 2018 while Idaho State Police investigated the case. He resigned this spring after being charged with the misdemeanor crimes.
The misdemeanor trial is expected to last through the end of the week.
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