Update: This story was updated at 11:44 a.m. with additional details from the affidavit.
A Nixa High School teacher was charged Monday with seven sex crimes, including three counts of sexual contact with a student.
Lena Stewart, 27, was arrested Jan. 22 by Nixa police following an investigation that began last month into allegations of sexual misconduct.
Stewart is charged with seven counts connected to sexual conduct with a student. They include:
- Second-degree statutory rape
- Three counts of sexual contact with a student
- Two counts of second-degree statutory sodomy
- First-degree sexual misconduct
Nixa police began investigating the case on Dec. 7.
According to the probable cause affidavit for Stewart’s arrest, Nixa police received information on Dec. 7 that a 16-year-old student was having sexual relations with Stewart, a second-year teacher at the school.
In Missouri, minors ages 14, 15 and 16 cannot consent to sex with someone who is more than 4 years older than them or who is 21 or older.
Teacher had several encounters with student, who told investigators of pressure to continue relationship, according to affidavit
Matthew Sloan, a Nixa investigator, spoke with the student’s guardians, who said the student had been spending an excessive amount of time with Stewart at the school, and had had a recent experience regarding a text or FaceTime message that concerned them. According to the affidavit, the student told a guardian about two encounters with Stewart at a friend’s house. During one of the encounters, the student said, they had sex.
In a later interview with police at a child advocacy center, the student said the two incidents happened at a friend’s house in October, and that the relationship with Stewart made the student uncomfortable. Sloan later interviewed the friend, who said that the student had been at his house several times, but that he was unaware of Stewart meeting him there. The friend told police that the student had told him about sexual encounters with Stewart, and had asked him “for a secluded place (the student) could take a girl.”
There was a feeling of pressure to continue the relationship, the student told Sloan, because the student believed Stewart would give them a worse grade in a woodworking class. The student had been getting an A in the class without doing much work, they told police.
Stewart’s phone showed no log of text correspondence between student and teacher, leading investigator to believe texts were deleted
Stewart’s attorney, Joe Passanise, was unavailable for comment Tuesday morning.
According to the affidavit, Sloan found that Stewart was Facebook friends with the student, and that the student had a “secret Instagram account” that was only used to communicate with Stewart. Sloan interviewed Stewart and asked her about communicating with students outside of class. According to the affidavit, she said she often sent and received texts from students. The investigator asked to see her phone, and Stewart gave it to him. According to the affidavit, there was no log of texts between Stewart and the student on her phone.
“This led me to believe Lena had deleted any evidence of communication between (the student) and her on her cell phone,” Sloan wrote in the affidavit.
The investigator wrote that there was probable cause to show Stewart committed “numerous illegal acts,” citing the student’s statements to investigators, witness statements, missing correspondence between Stewart and the student and proof that Stewart’s vehicle was at the friend’s house around the time the student stated the sexual contact had occurred.
Six of the charges are felony offenses. The sexual misconduct charge is a misdemeanor.
Nixa Public Schools says Stewart placed on leave, takes allegations ‘extremely seriously’
Jason Bennett, a sergeant with the police department’s criminal investigations division, said it was the first sexual misconduct case involving a Nixa educator that he has worked in his 15 years at the department.
“We learned today that charges have been filed against Lena Stewart, a teacher at Nixa High School,” Zac Rantz, Nixa Public Schools spokesman and safety coordinator, wrote in a news release on Jan. 23. “We take any allegation of inappropriate conduct extremely seriously, so when an allegation was made in December, the district followed policy and procedure and then placed Lena Stewart on administrative leave and will continue to follow board policy and procedure when addressing this situation.”