by: Todd Cooper
Maybe it was the similarities between his story and those of four current students – the boys who allege their teacher touched their buttocks or groin over the clothing.
Maybe it was the fact that he still was bothered -– visibly so -– by the episode three decades ago. Maybe it was the fact that he has young children and that he used to be a teacher himself.
Whatever the case, a 40-year-old Iowa man took the stand Thursday and laid bare an event he had kept quiet for decades: that his former fifth-grade teacher, Nicholas Richter, had touched his buttocks, repeatedly.
Even all these years later, the man’s chin quivered and his voice broke as he described how Richter would massage his buttocks over his clothing as Richter checked his class work.
Prosecutors called the man to the stand to try to prove a pattern of behavior by Richter, on trial this week in Douglas County District Court on four counts of sexual assault by touching students at a Ralston elementary school.
And the 40-year-old’s story bore similarities to the testimony jurors have heard this week. Four honors students – ages 8 to 11 – testifying that “Mr. Richter” touched them inappropriately over the clothing. Three said Richter touched their penis. One said that Richter rubbed his buttocks.
All of them -– including the 40-year-old -– testified that the touching occurred in front of a full classroom. Under prosecutors’ theory, Richter got his thrills off of touching kids in front of others.
Richter’s attorneys have pounced on that setting, questioning how plausible it was that Richter could sexually assault kids without anyone witnessing it.
They also wasted little time trying to undercut the 40-year-old man. Richter’s attorney, Joe Howard, suggested there was another reason the man came forward: his chance at the limelight.
“It’s pretty convenient for you to step up and say these things. . . with all of the TV cameras and everything?” Howard said.
The man — now a state government employee – chuckled incredulously. He said he was so disinterested in the limelight that he didn’t want his name used in accounts of the case.
“This is not fun,” he said.
The case has been far from a joy ride for anyone involved. Four students have missed school -–some of them the first day – to take the stand. All described Mr. Richter as a “nice teacher” who taught math and reading and doled out candy.
All described how he would fondle them for a couple seconds, then send them back to their desks.
The 40-year-old described a similar – though not exactly the same – scene. In 1983, the man said, he had Mr. Richter as his fifth-grade home room teacher at an elementary school in Council Bluffs.
The man said Richter would call up the students to have their papers checked. When he was at the teacher’s desk, he said, Richter would place his hand on his buttocks and move his fingers.
“It was a massaging (motion),” the 40-year-old testified. The strange thing, the man said, was that Richter would be talking about the work as he was fondling his buttocks.
“There was a disconnect,” he testified. “His hand wasn’t the same as his face. The words of his mouth and the actions of his hands did not connect.”
How long did it last? Prosecutor Beth Beninato asked. The man caught his breath – and looked up at the ceiling. “More than enough to feel that it was wrong and that there was intent,” the 40-year-old said.
One difference between the man’s story and the accounts of the current boys: The man said Richter did the touching while the other students were lined up in the front of the class, waiting to get their papers checked. The 40-year-old said he saw Richter doing the same to other boys – though none of them have come forward.
The 40-year-old said it happened more than 10 times – until he finally told his mother about it. She went to the principal, who apparently met with Richter. The next day, Richter pulled the boy aside and apologized.
“I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable,” Richter said. After that, the man said, Richter never touched him again. Their paths crossed when the man became an elementary teacher in Iowa. Another teacher at the school: Richter. Howard asked the man if he suspected that Richter was still touching kids.
The man said he did, but had no proof. The 40-year-old said the fondling has bothered him for years. After reports about Richter surfaced last year, the man said he decided he had to come forward.
The man said, he felt horrible that, according to reports, Richter’s touching had become more brazen. “Why are you here today?” Beninato asked.
“Because you felt that what I had to say was relevant to this case,” the man said.
“If you’re going to make a decision about someone’s future, everything should be laid out.”
This article was written by Todd Cooper and originally published on omaha