Paly teacher sentenced to prison for sex crimes

Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly

Former Palo Alto High School teacher Ronnie Farrell was sentenced on Thursday morning in Palo Alto to two years and eight months in state prison for committing sex crimes against a minor on campus last summer.

His attorneys and the prosecution reached a modified plea agreement in January, when Farrell pleaded no contest and agreed to what is called a "five-year state prison top," meaning that he could receive a sentence of up to five years in the state prison. 

Farrell, 47, pleaded no contest to four counts of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child age 14 or 15 and a separate sexual-battery charge, according to court documents. He was arrested last June after a female student, who had been in Farrell's biology class that school year, reported to the police that he had inappropriately touched her in his classroom. The student was 15 years old at the time and had just completed her freshman year at Paly, according to police. 

On Thursday, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vincent Chiarello said the defense and prosecution agreed on a fixed sentence of two years and eight months instead of the five-year maximum. (Two years were attached to the first count Farrell was charged with and eight months to the sexual-battery charge.) 

Chiarello also gave Farrell three one-year sentences for each of the remaining charges, to be served concurrently within the fixed sentence.

Chiarello denied Farrell probation, and said he will be placed on parole or supervision after his release from prison. 

This went against the position of the probation department, which recommended three year's probation and a maximum sentence in county jail rather than prison for Farrell, according to court documents obtained by the Weekly. 

In a report, the probation officer cites his "lack of prior similar conduct, an early plea, expressed remorse and full acceptance of culpability" as reasons for the lesser sentence. The officer also recommended Farrell register as a sexual offender and undergo treatment. An assessment found Farrell to be at low risk for committing another sexual offense. 

The only aggravating factor, the probation officer said, was a "grave violation of his position of trust."

While compared with other similar cases Farrell's "could be considered less serious based on the defendant's actual conduct ... as he held a supposed trusted position in the young victim's life, and took advantage of and exploited that position of trust, this officer finds reason for serious consequences," the probation report states.

In the probation report, Farrell cites drug use and family and work stressors as reasons for his behavior, which he fully admitted to.

"None of this is her fault. This is me," he told the probation officer in an interview in February. "I was a trusted adult and what I did, I'm eternally ashamed and embarrassed of."

Farrell has been in custody since his last court appearance on March 9.

The female student and her family have not requested restitution at this time, Chiarello said, but if she does in the future — for therapy expenses, for example — a hearing will be held to determine the amount. 

A representative from the district attorney's office read a statement on behalf of the student at the March 9 hearing. She described how she has experienced nightmares, flashbacks, paranoia and depression since last summer, and her difficulty returning to school this year.

On Thursday, Chiarello put in place a 10-year protective order prohibiting contact between Farrell and the student. He also said visitation in prison is prohibited.

Farrell officially resigned from his teaching position the same day he pleaded no contest, according to Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Max McGee. Farrell had been on unpaid leave since his arrest. 

Farrell had taught biology and chemistry at Paly since 2012 — his first teaching job, according to the district. He was made a permanent staff member in the 2014-15 school year.

After his arrest, McGee said the district had not received any previous complaints about Farrell nor any indication that he engaged in this kind of behavior.

Read the original article here.

Carolyn Pires