Teacher convicted of stalking, assault

Former Brookside Elementary teacher Alberts free on bond until sentencing

BIG RAPIDS — A Big Rapids teacher on Tuesday was found guilty of stalking and assaulting a fellow teacher on school grounds.

Ted Alberts, a fourth-grade teacher at Brookside Elementary, was convicted of two misdemeanor charges by a jury of three men and three women Mecosta County’s 77th District Court. A sentencing date has not yet been set, but Alberts will remain free on bond until his sentencing.

Ted Alberts, a fourth-grade teacher at Brookside Elementary, was convicted of stalking and assault on Tuesday.

The case against Alberts arose from incidents that occurred in November and December 2010.

The complainant in the case testified on Tuesday that she began working at Brookside in November 2010 as a long-term substitute teacher in the special education classroom. On Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010, she was in her classroom at Brookside preparing for class to resume from Thanksgiving break when Alberts came into the classroom and began talking to her. While they were talking, Alberts took the complainant’s cell phone and went to his classroom.

She retrieved her phone and returned to her own classroom, she said, but Alberts returned to her classroom, grabbed her wrist, pinned her against a filing cabinet and began making sexual comments to her, she testified. He then reached into a pouch on the woman’s sweatshirt and grabbed the phone, placing it inside his front pants pocket and telling her she had to reach in and grab it if she wanted to back. When she said she wouldn’t, Alberts reportedly wrestled her to the floor and continued to make sexual comments. Eventually, he threw the phone at her and left the classroom, but not before telling her that her new haircut was “ugly,” she testified.

The following day at school, the complainant testified that she told two other teachers about the incident and they encouraged her to call Brookside principal Tim Buckingham.

On Dec. 1, 2010, the complainant testified that Alberts entered her classroom during her prep hour, sat down at her classroom computer and began clicking through her e-mail. She turned the computer off and left the room.

Later that same day, first-grade teacher Jeff Pretzlaff testified that he saw Alberts on the complainant’s classroom computer again. The complainant said e-mails she had not read were marked as read, indicated in the e-mail system with a red check mark.

“This has been stressful,” she said. “I carry pepper spray in my classroom and, as an elementary teacher, I don’t think I should have to have pepper spray in my classroom. … I’m scared to stay alone by myself, and I’m 25. I have to call someone to stay with me.”

These incidents provided enough evidence for the jury to convict Alberts of both assault and stalking, which is defined as two or more nonconsensual contacts that cause the victim to feel threatened, said Mecosta County Assistant Prosecutor Nathaniel Hull.

Hull also called two other female Big Rapids Public Schools employees to the stand to testify about disturbing encounters they had with Alberts.

DeAnn Snyder, a Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District special education teacher, testified that she worked with Alberts in 2006 at Riverview Elementary. During their time as colleagues, Snyder said Alberts tried to give her his phone number multiple times even though she was in a relationship and, after she dyed her blonde hair a darker color, he told her the color was ugly and made her a “wig” with yellow yarn.

Kim Urbanick, a paraprofessional at Hillcrest Elementary, testified that she worked with Alberts in 2007. She recalled incidents in which she was bothered by his behavior, including a time when she showed Alberts photos of her daughters — ages 17, 19 and 21 at the time — and he asked if any of them would like to “date an older guy.” Later, when Urbanick asked Alberts to add his phone number into her cell phone’s contact list, he took a picture of himself with the phone and labeled it “future son-in-law.” She also testified that she believed Alberts had gone through her cell phone at other times.

In his testimony, Alberts denied the claims of all three women. When asked about the incident when the complainant turned off the computer after seeing Alberts using it, he said there was no conflict, even though she made it clear she didn’t want him on her computer.

“She said she had to go make copies and we walked down to the office together,” Alberts said. “I didn’t get the sense that she didn’t want to have contact with me.”

In his closing argument, Hull called this behavior Alberts’ “system,” and said the shared experience between these three women spoke to the credibility of the complainant’s story.

“How interesting is it that she made up this story that matches something that happened in two other women’s lives?” he asked the jury.

Alberts’ attorney, Fillipe Iorio, said the stories were not a match. In fact, he said the complainant fabricated her story because she was concerned about advancing her career and had romantic interests in Alberts.

“The more she tells the story, the more she’s unable to get out,” Iorio told the jury. “(Alberts) did not assault her, he did not stalk her and he was honest with you.”

Hull disputed Iorio’s claim that the complainant was concerned only about her job.

“Defense council keeps saying that her No. 1 concern was her job,” he said. “But make no mistake. After Nov. 28, her fear was the defendant.”

After hearing the verdict, Iorio said he and his client were disappointed in the outcome of the case but he did not know what Alberts’ next move would be.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Iorio said. “I’m sure Mr. Alberts will evaluate all his options at this point.”

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Posted by Whitney Gronski-Buffa

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