A former Helena student told authorities he had sex with his teacher Rene Elena Carter about 25 times, including in her classroom at Capital High School, before she was charged with felony statutory rape.
The allegations were included in court documents related to the investigation leading up to the January 2018 charge, which District Judge Kathy Seeley ordered the city of Helena to release Tuesday. The Independent Record had previously requested the investigation materials from the city, which then asked the court to rule on whether they could be released.
The information provided to the Independent Record details the investigation process from start to finish.
Authorities were first alerted to the situation by Capital High School Principal Brett Zanto, who told a school resource officer that Carter and the student were caught on video engaging in inappropriate physical contact in a stairwell on June 8, 2015. The offices of the city and county attorneys reviewed the information, but officials said the footage did not appear to show any sexual contact between the two.
A Helena Police Department detective later spoke with the student, who at that time denied having any sexual contact with Carter. On June 12, 2015, the case was set to inactive pending new information.
In 2016, a family member of the student told a HPD detective she had heard about an inappropriate relationship between the student and Carter. In February 2017, the same family member told authorities the student was discussing personal details about Carter that "he shouldn't have known about."
A detective then interviewed Carter's husband, who described the student as "an unbelievable parasite" who demanded Carter's attention all the time and was physically abusive to her, pinching her on her arms and pulling her hair. He also told them that Carter has undergone "extensive counseling due to PTSD" from interactions with the student.
Carter later talked to a detective by phone, saying she wanted to report abuse by the student but wasn't sure what to do and felt like she might need an attorney.
The student described his relationship with Carter in an interview with his attorney and a detective on June 6, 2017.
The student told authorities their sexual relationship started in 2015 when he was 17 years old. Montana law allows those 16 and older to consent to sexual activity, but the student was legally incapable of giving consent for other reasons, which the Independent Record has chosen to withhold to avoid identifying the alleged victim.
The student told the detective he and Carter "kind of planned on getting together once he turned 18, but they never did." The student also told the detective he had sent Carter money from time to time, according to court documents.
The student told the officers he didn't report his relationship with Carter in 2015 because he did not want to get her in trouble. He also said Carter told him to never talk about their relationship.
The student also provided certain identifying information about Carter. After officials secured a search warrant to verify the information, the detective wrote, Carter "stipulated to the facts and evidence I was seeking in the warrant."
Carter's trial is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 10.
Before the court released the materials to the Independent Record, Carter argued in court that her right to privacy trumped the public's right to know about the investigation.
The court completed a review of the information and found in favor of the Independent Record, as previous court precedents involving other Montana newspapers found that the public has a heightened right to know otherwise confidential information regarding individuals involved with public health, safety and welfare.
"The same analysis is applied to teachers because they are entrusted with the care and instruction of children," the court order reads. "Carter has a limited right to privacy regarding the charges against her."
The order also notes that Carter is "understandably concerned about the effect of pretrial disclosure on her upcoming criminal trial."
"However, she does not cite any case law authorizing the refusal to release information because of pending criminal charges," the order says. "The public's compelling right to know outweighs Carter's right to privacy. The public's right to know is not outweighed by consideration of Carter's right to a speedy and fair trial before an impartial jury."
Independent Record Editor Jesse Chaney contributed to this report.
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