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Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014
Crime & Courts

Hillsborough adds charges in Polk teacher sex case

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Published:   |   Updated: April 17, 2014 at 08:21 AM

TAMPA — A Polk County teacher arrested in Lakeland on charges of having sex with a student now faces three similar counts in Hillsborough County because of encounters they had near Plant City.

A police investigation also revealed that the teacher, 29-year-old Jennifer Christine Fichter, was interviewed in 2012 because of texts and Facebook messages with another of her students. No physical contact occurred and no charges were filed, authorities said.

Fichter, an English teacher at Central Florida Aerospace Academy, now is accused of having a four-month romance with a 17-year-old boy, which produced a pregnancy and abortion. Fichter told the boy’s mother in a recorded telephone conversation they had sex as many as 30 times, Lakeland police said.

Three times between Jan. 29 and April 8, Fichter drove the youth in her Toyota pickup to a corporate park near Plant City, where they had sex in the back seat, said Hillsborough County sheriff’s spokesman Larry McKinnon.

The Hillsborough warrants were served Tuesday night.

“She drove him over in her vehicle and went into that area and then sexual acts occurred in her vehicle,” McKinnon said.

Fichter remained in the Polk County Jail on Wednesday. She was ordered held on $70,000 bail, $10,000 on each of seven Polk County counts.

She has no bail on the three Hillsborough counts. She will be taken from the Polk County Jail and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail, McKinnon said.

Abigail Roche, the Lakeland mother who brought the earlier texts and Facebook messages to the attention of authorities in 2012, said Polk Sheriff’s detectives dropped the case and handed it over to the school district, which placed a disciplinary letter in Fichter’s personnel file.

“It was turned over to the school board for disciplinary action,” Roche said, “but nothing was ever done.”

She said the exchanges on Facebook and in texts weren’t flirtatious, but they were personal, and should not have happened between a teacher and student.

“They were very inappropriate between and adult and a child,” she said, “let alone a teacher and a student.

“The first red flag was when, over the summer of 2012, she had taken a bunch of boys, her favorite boys, out to eat at a restaurant,” Roche said. “That just wasn’t what you normally would see from a teacher.”

In that case, detectives interviewed the teen and Fichter and reviewed a series of texts and Facebook messages. The youth told detectives that as far as he knew, none of his friends had physical contact with Fichter, either.

The report said messages between the two focused mostly on school work and never implied there was any physical contact, though there was some personal communication, including advice about his girlfriend.

“He would mostly talk to her about books and literary things because she was his former English 3 honors teacher,” the report said.

“This incident,” a detective concluded, “did not rise to the level of any crime.”

On Tuesday, Fichter was suspended by Polk County schools Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy with pay, said Manny Rodriguez, personnel investigator with the district’s human resources department.

“Our superintendent will be making a recommendation to the members of the board for her termination,” he said Wednesday. That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

Fichter was hired by the district in August 2011 at a salary of $40,530, he said.

Fichter’s grandfather, John Fichter, who lives in Orange Park, was reluctant to talk about the case or his granddaughter.

“I know nothing about what occurred,” he said. “I wasn’t there. It definitely was surprising. Yes, very surprising.”

He said he learned of the arrest when his youngest daughter called to tell him.

“I really don’t know the details,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about Jennifer beyond what I just said.”

Police said that since November, the teenager and teacher met for sex three times in the parking lot of a Lakeland apartment complex and three times at a location off New Tampa Highway in Lakeland. He also said they had sex outside the city in Polk County and three times in Hillsborough County.

On Jan. 27, the teen’s mother became suspicious when she noticed her son was not home at 5 a.m. and he lied about his whereabouts, police said. She began to review his text messages and discovered texts from two names, one of which discussed an “age difference,” police said.

The mother confronted her son, who admitted Fichter was using both names, police said. The mother informed police of the relationship Monday.

On Monday night, the mother agreed to make a controlled, recorded phone call to Fichter for investigators. During the call, Fichter said she became pregnant with the teen’s child and had an abortion, an arrest affidavit said.

Fichter also said she was in love with the student, had sex with him 20 to 30 times, wanted to maintain the relationship and did not regret her actions, according the affidavit.

She was arrested at her Davenport home.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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