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Feb 4, 2015

Former Teacher At Elite L.A. Girls School Arrested For Sex Crimes

BuzzFeed News investigated allegations of sexual abuse by the former teacher at Los Angeles’ elite Marlborough School for girls last July. An attorney for one of his alleged victims tells BuzzFeed News that Marlborough could have prevented the alleged abuse from happening.

Flickr: jann_on / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: jannon

Joseph Koetters was arrested on Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which said in a statement that he was "charged with having a sexual relationship with a female student for more than a year." He was released on $140,000 bail the same day.

If convicted, Koetters faces up to five years in state prison.

Joseph Thomas Koetters, a former teacher at two elite private high schools in Los Angeles, was charged Tuesday with four felony sex crimes, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The charges relate to Koetters' alleged behavior with a former student at the Marlborough School in Los Angeles, the oldest all-girls school in Southern California.

In July, BuzzFeed News was the first outlet to name Koetters, 47, and interview former students who said he had pursued inappropriate relationships with them.

Following BuzzFeed News' inquiries, Koetters resigned from his new job as an English teacher at Polytechnic School, an exclusive private school in nearby Pasadena, and Marlborough assembled a special investigative committee to look into the allegations. The committee announced in November that long-standing Head of School Barbara Wagner would resign.

But Marlborough isn't in the clear yet, as evidenced by the charges and an upcoming lawsuit on behalf of one of Koetters' alleged victims.

The charges against Koetters include oral copulation and penetration with a foreign object involving someone under 18, Kim Porter, sex crimes unit director, told the Los Angeles Times. She also said that detectives interviewed two other alleged victims.

An LAPD detective working on the case said the investigation was still ongoing. The district attorney's office did not return requests for comment by press time.

The allegations against Koetters first came to light in an anonymous essay published in xoJane in June by former Marlborough student Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie. Gilbert-Lurie told BuzzFeed News that she had reported Koetters' conduct to Marlborough when she was a junior in 2012, but the school did not fire him. Koetters voluntarily left to teach at Polytechnic School in 2013.

Gilbert-Lurie's essay did not name Koetters or Marlborough, but included enough details that eight former students reached out to Gilbert-Lurie to tell her they knew exactly who she was talking about.

One was "Sarah," who told BuzzFeed News that she had a "full-blown sexual relationship" with Koetters when she was a 16-year-old student in his English class in the early 2000s. (Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.) The LAPD would not comment on whether she was the same former student involved in the charges. Her attorney, David M. Ring, said he plans to file a civil suit against Marlborough and Koetters soon.

"It shouldn't fall on a student to mediate where the line should be," Sarah said. "That's not a student's responsibility."

Sarah, who also recently spoke to Vanity Fair, told BuzzFeed News that Koetters approached her with "intellectual conversation" and by flattering her interest in literature. Soon, conversation strayed to their personal lives, and Koetters often complained about his wife.

"He took an interest in me in a way that my 16-year-old brain interpreted that made me feel good and special," Sarah said. "He made it sound like we were organically falling in love, and I was kind of along with him for the ride."

Sarah said she and Koetters spent time together on campus, in parks, and even at his house. Koetters never seemed nervous about anyone finding out, she said. The affair ended when Sarah became pregnant. She miscarried before her scheduled abortion, but realized that she took their affair more seriously than Koetters ever did.

"It completely crushed my spirit," Sarah said. "He didn't have the emotional response that I saw in myself. He was pragmatic, and to me it was the biggest deal in the world."

Sarah didn't tell anyone what had happened until she read Gilbert-Lurie's xoJane essay. Then, she said, she dropped off an angry letter at Marlborough detailing her pain. She said the letter prompted Marlborough to call the LAPD.

"While these events have had an incredibly painful and lasting impact on my life, I'm not writing you with myself in mind," she wrote in the letter, obtained by BuzzFeed News. "I'm writing you because ... I have discovered not only that I'm not the only one, but also that Marlborough has turned a blind eye to this disgusting and repeat sex offender. I have been horrified to learn about all of it — how many girls Koetters has targeted, how poorly the school treated those willing to speak up, and — perhaps worst of all — that confronted with the knowledge that Koetters is a severely perverted and dangerous man, Marlborough allowed him to preserve his career and reputation, and sat idly as he transitioned to [Polytechnic]."

Ring said that Marlborough had still not revealed the full extent of what the school knew about its teacher.

"We intend to do so [in the lawsuit] and will show Marlborough could have prevented all of this from ever happening," he said.

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