A former Gresham-Barlow School District principal was convicted Monday of sexually abusing four young students between 2005 and 2009.
Jeffrey W. Hays, now 68, sat rigidly after the judge read her decision: guilty on six counts of first-degree sexual abuse and one count of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration.
One of the students, now a man in his 20s, sat closely behind Hays and broke into tears as others in the crowded Clackamas County courtroom clasped hands and dabbed their eyes with tissues.
Circuit Judge Katherine Weber revoked the former educator’s bail and ordered him held until sentencing June 28. Closing arguments in the five-week trial concluded Friday and the judge delivered the verdict Monday morning.
Hays then turned slowly to the gallery, searching out the faces of his daughter and other family members while avoiding eye contact with the student who was crying. He said nothing while being led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
“This is justice for the victims and for the community,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Scott Healy said after the hearing. “A very dangerous person has now been held accountable for his conduct.”
Defense attorney Jason Thompson said Hays would appeal the verdict.
“I’m shocked that (the judge) thought that the evidence presented, which we all agreed was contaminated, was sufficient to support any verdict beyond a reasonable doubt,” Thompson said. Weber, a former public defender who was appointed to the bench in 2010, presided over the non-jury trial.
More than 50 witnesses and 70 pieces of evidence were examined during the trial, including testimony from Hays himself and all four students who said they were sexually abused at Deep Creek Elementary School in Damascus when they were in third or fourth grade.
Two of the students said the abuse happened while they had group or one-on-one lunches with the principal in his office. The other two said Hays groped them while he conducted a multiplication test for fourth graders known as the “Math Medal” in his office.
The school’s booster club president and a PTA member both raised concerns at the time that Hays was meeting with students with the door shut and his office blinds drawn, Healy noted.
Hays responded by saying that he had to protect student privacy while discussing health or disciplinary matters, according to the prosecutor.
Hays said he couldn’t remember a math medal program when asked about it by Clackamas County Sheriff’s Detective Lisa Shipley in 2016, the prosecutor said, but testified in court he conducted the test dozens of times with his door ajar.
In his closing argument, Healy asked the judge not to concentrate on minor inconsistencies in the four students’ memories as they testified but instead consider their traumatized demeanor on the witness stand.
“He’s the trusted principal touching your genitals, and you’re a little child and you don’t quite understand what’s going on, but you’re scared and it doesn’t feel good,” Healy said. “You would focus on certain details and maybe not remember others.”
Thompson, however, argued the students were recounting false memories, spurred by the lure of lawsuit payouts.
“In their minds they created this mass hysteria with unsubstantiated allegations,” he said during closing arguments. “False memories, once they’re encoded, they’re playing over and over.”
The defense attorney cited the testimony of two school secretaries who said Hays’ door was almost never shut. He also pointed to 15 witnesses who testified that Hays had never demonstrated sexually inappropriate behavior. Hays’ current partner, Thompson added, has worked as a forensic interviewer on child sex abuse cases.
Thompson also dialed in on the witnesses’ contradictions, as the second student to come forward originally recalled being abused 20 to 25 times but later said it likely happened only once or twice, and the third student recalled Hays wearing a wedding band despite the principal being unmarried at the time.
The fourth student was photographed smiling during the math medal ceremony, he said.
“Does that look like someone who’s just been sexually assaulted?” Thompson asked. “If you believe a witness has lied in front of you, you can discredit every other thing that witness has told you.”
Healy said a student might reflexively smile after being told to do so by a photographer. He conceded that the second student would not have been alone with Hays that many times and that Hays was likely not wearing a wedding ring while working at the school.
“The defense counsel wants you to consider some evidence in a vacuum and pay no attention to other evidence,” Healy said.
A longtime teacher in Southern California and father of two, Hays took his first job as a school administrator at Deep Creek but was let go after four years as principal due to budget cuts. He was working as the principal of City View charter school in Hillsboro when he abruptly resigned in 2017 after the Deep Creek allegations came to light.
The first disclosure of sexual abuse came in September 2016 after a high school student told her parents. Her close friend and neighbor, now a first-year university student, then reported the next month that she, too, had been abused by Hays.
Both reported the abuse to authorities. The two female students filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Gresham-Barlow School District in early 2017. A Multnomah County jury awarded one of the students $3 million, while the other settled with the district for about $425,000.
Thompson suggested the two were as close as sisters and argued the second student made up the allegation to support her friend.
In January 2018, a third student told a counselor at a drug treatment facility that Hays had abused him. The counselor reported the abuse to law enforcement, but the student declined to cooperate with police for more than a year.
Thompson argued the student had seen news reports about the case and invented an accusation so his mother would let him leave the treatment facility and go to a concert.
Healy initially issued a memo declining to prosecute the case, but reopened it after the third student decided to participate. The third student also sued and eventually received $365,000 as part of a settlement.
The fourth student’s family was discussing the news reports about Hays in 2020 when they noticed him becoming visibly uncomfortable, Healy said.
“He told his mother he thought he would take this secret to the grave,” the prosecutor said.
The fourth student settled with the school district for about $600,000 during the trial, according to Thompson.
Healy noted that he explicitly asked the witnesses, even aggressively, if they had made up the abuse. Each denied it, sometimes weeping on the stand as they sat feet away from Hays.
Hays, on the contrary, had feigned not to recollect quizzing dozens of students on their times tables, the prosecutor reminded the judge.
“He remembers the math medal and he remembers what he did,” Healy said. “He sexually abused all of these kids.”
Hays faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for the single count of unlawful sexual penetration and 10 years each for the six counts of sex abuse.
— Zane Sparling; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-319-7083; @pdxzane
Original Article: Source