James Christopher White, a former Victoria school district wrestling coach and teacher, was indicted by a grand jury in August – six months after he was arrested on warrants charging him with sexual assault of a child and improper relationship between an educator and student.
Each second-degree felony charge carries a maximum punishment of 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, if convicted.
White’s attorney, Tali Villafranca, could not be reached for comment. As of Thursday, White’s trial was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Dec. 4, according to county records.
District Attorney Constance Filley Johnson declined to comment on the indictment, citing the Criminal Code of Procedure, but said the lapse between the arrests and indictment reflects the time it took for the sheriff’s office to complete its investigation and for her office to thoroughly review evidence before presenting to the grand jury.
Deputies with the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office arrested White in mid-February after VISD and the sheriff’s office investigated allegations that White had attempted to have sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old student in December at a Holiday Inn Express. The team was staying at the hotel for a wrestling tournament in Rio Grande City, according to district records.
“In the incident, the offender kissed the student, picked her up, placed her on a hotel room bed, and attempted to have sexual intercourse with the student by pulling her underwear down,” an investigator commissioned by the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office wrote in an arrest warrant for White.
The former educator admitted to the act during a voluntary statement provided to the investigator, according to the same warrant. He was placed on administrative leave 33 days after the alleged incident occurred and resigned five days later.
“When administrators became aware of the allegations against staff member James White, Mr. White was immediately placed on administrative leave,” Shawna Currie, a district spokeswoman, said in a news release at the time of the arrest. “This is a very serious charge, and the Victoria ISD will always act in the best interest of our students’ safety and well-being.”
Currie declined to comment on White’s indictment Thursday because he is no longer a district employee.
The district, along with the Calhoun school district where White previously worked, came under scrutiny in June when public records revealed that lies on White’s applications to both school districts were overlooked during the hiring process.
A background check conducted by the Advocate showed that White had his peace officer and jailer licenses revoked by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement prior to hire, after he was dishonorably discharged for untruthfulness or insubordination from Mathis and Orange Grove police departments.
At the time, Victoria Superintendent Quentin Shepherd told the Advocate that White fooled the district by misrepresenting himself, but stood by the vetting process.
Public record requests filed since the Advocate’s last report about White reveal new details about how the district hired him.
A reference check memo written by Courtney Boyce, Victoria West’s head football coach that was sent to Gregory Bonewald, former assistant superintendent of human resources, said White’s hiring recommendation was delayed because he lacked special education and high school coaching experience, but ultimately was made due to a lack of applications late in the summer of 2018.
The memo sent to Bonewald, who has since been promoted, was written as part of the district’s investigation and sent for reference during an interview with the Advocate.
“I was not finding anymore applications and we were rapidly approaching the ability of an application to get out of a contract with their current district,” Boyce wrote in the memo. “At this point in finding coaches, you are either finding someone who is right out of college or someone who does not have a contract with any school district.”
On the same day as his interview with the Advocate, Bonewald sent an email regarding “the expectation and importance” of calling references to district employees.
“We should speak with and document conversations with at least three references,” he wrote in the email.
Bonewald told the Advocate that the district spoke with references from two of White’s previous employees, though only one is mentioned in Boyce’s reference check memo.
As of Thursday, White’s certifications to teach were still valid, and under review by the Texas Education Agency’s Educator Investigations Division.