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Teacher pleads guilty in sex case.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

JUNCTION CITY - A popular, longtime music teacher pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of harassment for inappropriately touching two female students.

Joseph Sherwood Wiggins III was released on his own recognizance after entering the pleas in Lane County Circuit Court and faces sentencing June 23 on the misdemeanors. Each count carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $6,250 fine.

The 52-year-old touched one girl on the buttocks at least once and the other on the breast on at least two occasions.

The convictions likely will end Wiggins' teaching career. He built high-participation music programs during 21 years of teaching band and choir at Oaklea Middle School. Junction City officials reported the harassment to the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which typically revokes teaching certificates in such cases.

Wiggins had taught music in the district since 1983. He divided his time between Oaklea Middle School and Junction City High School until 1987, when he was assigned to the middle school full time, police said.

This year, he returned to teaching at both schools, after a full-time high school music post was eliminated because of budget cuts, Junction City Superintendent Kathleen Rodden-Nord said. Wiggins also taught a math class and supervised a study hall at Oaklea this year.

He was suspended during an initial school investigation, then reinstated and suspended again when police uncovered additional information.

The plea agreement capped several months of investigation by Junction City police and the Lane County district attorney's office.

The case began in early February, when a 16-year-old high school student told an administrator that Wiggins had patted her buttocks. School officials contacted police and state child welfare officials, as required by law. The girl told investigators that Wiggins had progressed from placing his hand on her shoulder in sixth grade to rubbing and touching her neck in seventh grade to "pats on the butt" in high school.

In the course of investigating Wiggins' behavior, police also talked to a 14-year-old middle school student who reported that Wiggins had touched her breast at least twice.

In both cases, witnesses confirmed the inappropriate contact, which occurred "in a full classroom," Detective Michael McClellan said.

More than 40 of Wiggins' past and current students were interviewed. Several others reported being uncomfortable with the way Wiggins touched them, but those incidents "did not amount to a criminal offense," Junction City Police Chief Ken Hancock said.

Wiggins, a divorced father with adult children, issued a written statement through his attorney, Shaun McCrea.

"Joe Wiggins' dedicated intent has always been to assist his pupils in the learning of an appreciation for music," the statement said. "For his efforts, he is widely respected and appreciated. Mr. Wiggins was devastated when he learned that he, by his actions, had caused discomfort to some of his students. He acknowledges he is responsible for offending those students and to those students Mr. Wiggins extends his most sincere apologies."

Hancock said students interviewed in the case liked Wiggins as a teacher for the most part, but "they wanted the behavior to stop."

A police summary of the students' statements found that he "does not touch nor treat boys the way he does girls" and that he "starts touching the girls in the sixth grade ... the touching starts out as just a light touch on the shoulder and they change to more personal areas as they get older. Several of the students advised that through the years they just got used to the touching, but now it is getting worse."

Child welfare worker Michelle Lowery, who worked on the case, praised the two girls who came forward for having the courage to report inappropriate touching by such a popular adult.

So did Junction City School District spokeswoman Jill Case. "I certainly want the students who reported this, in the face of liking him, to know that the consequences are not their fault," she said.

Branden Hansen, 17, who plans to study music in college after graduating as a valedictorian of his Junction City class last week, called it "really unfortunate" that Wiggins' behavior had undermined his accomplishments as a teacher.

"He was a really fun teacher," said Hansen, who was in Wiggins' band class from sixth to eighth grade and then again this year. "He was genuinely caring for the students, and he put considerable effort into helping everybody."

Rodden-Nord said the February complaint was the first that the district had received about Wiggins' behavior, although some parents told police that he had been accused of similar incidents in the past.

Before coming to Junction City, Wiggins taught in the Oakland School District from 1980 to 1982, in the Grant Union School District from 1977 to 1979 and in the Prairie City School District from 1976 to 1977.

Court records show that Wiggins had a 1989 conviction for driving while intoxicated, and was later a defendant in a nonpayment lawsuit brought by a local alcohol treatment program.

Several students interviewed during the recent investigation reported that they could smell alcohol on Wiggins during class.
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Title Annotation:Crime; A music instructor faces sentencing on three misdemeanor counts
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 9, 2004
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