Despite written admissions that a Harlem High School student had sex with a man who was then a teacher at her school, the Thomson Police Department will not pursue charges in the case.
Instead, any prosecution would be left up to Columbia County authorities, who counter that they have no standing to bring charges because the sexual activity took place at the teacher’s Thomson home.
Mitchell Sivas, 57, the Harlem senior Junior ROTC instructor who resigned after the relationship with the 17-year-old student came to light, apparently will not be charged even though state law specifies that sex between a student and a teacher at the same school constitutes sexual assault.
Thomson police Capt. Jamie Bridges said his agency is deferring any prosecution to Columbia County.
“Basically, if we don’t have a victim or a complainant, we don’t have a case,” he said.
Bridges said that in their initial investigation, in which officers found the student at Sivas’ Michael Street home March 3, both denied any sexual activity while professing “strong feelings” for each other.
Since then, Thomson Police have received written admissions from the student that sex took place, said Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris.
“They have two statements,” Morris said, “one that was written at the school that was supplied to them, and another that (the student) wrote for her dad and signed, that they’re in possession of, where she admits having sexual intercourse with him on more than one occasion.
“I furnished them with the school statement, and the father hand-delivered the typed and signed statement. For whatever reason, I guess they’re not going to pursue it.”
The father has since said he doesn’t want the case prosecuted “because he doesn’t want to drag her through the mud,” Morris said, though a parent in such a case would not have the authority to decide whether charges are brought.
Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dennis Sanders said none of that information has been forwarded to him.
“If I get a file, I’m going to look at it just like any other case,” Sanders said. “They (Thomson police) haven’t sent me a file.”
The only contact he’s had with police about the case, he said, was a consultation immediately after officers interviewed Sivas and the student at Sivas’ home.
“(They) met with me and said they went out to the scene and there was a denial of any inappropriate activity. If a case is made, it’s not up to the DA to make a case,” Sanders said, adding that subsequent allegations of inappropriate conduct are hearsay.
Georgia law specifies that sexual assault occurs when “a teacher, principal, assistant principal or other administrator of any school engages in sexual contact with such other individual who the actor knew or should have known is enrolled at the same school.”
Under a change in the law made last year, in response to a similar case at Harlem High School that was overturned by the state Supreme Court, the victim’s consent “shall not
be used as a defense to a prosecution.”
That means that even though the student is older than the legal age of consent, any sex between her and the teacher would be illegal – and if that activity had taken place in Columbia County rather than Thomson, Sivas would be charged, Morris said.
“It’s frustrating,” he said.
Anyone convicted under the law is subject to one to 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000, or both, with harsher penalties for younger victims.
“There really is nowhere else to go with it,” Morris said. “It’s the end for us.”
Sivas had been Harlem High’s senior Junior ROTC instructor since he was hired in 2011, after previously serving as a Junior ROTC instructor at Grady High School in Atlanta.
According to the Harlem High School Junior ROTC Web site, Sivas is a 26-year veteran who served in Airborne, Air Assault and Special Operations units and “served several combat assignments with Special Forces.”