Education

Richland High special education teacher charged with molesting female student

A Richland High School special education teacher allegedly started a relationship with a female student by making sexual advances in her class journal.

Then, in hundreds of personal emails between Steven M. Diaz and the teen over 10 days, the teacher asked for photos of the student in lingerie and talked about the two having “some crazy good sex,” court documents show.

Diaz, 31, has been placed on paid leave by the Richland School District.

The Richland man appeared Wednesday in Benton County Superior Court on charges of third-degree child molestation and communication with a minor for immoral purposes. He pleaded innocent and a trial was scheduled for July 20.

“Diaz will remain on paid leave until an investigation is completed,” district spokesman Steve Aagaard said in an email. “Further comments, including the nature of the incident, are not possible at this time.”

Richland police were contacted May 27 after Richland High Principal Tim Praino received a report from the girl’s friend.

Diaz reportedly teaches kids with academic delays and requires his students to write in journals, which he reviews and returns to the students with a written response. The friend told school officials that is how the relationship began, court documents said.

Detective Athena Clark met with the girl and her friend and learned that Diaz had been corresponding with the alleged victim by email and Facebook. The friend disclosed that about 1 a.m. one day the previous week, Diaz contacted the girl and arranged to pick the two of them up at the girl’s home, documents said.

The friend said all three drove around for several hours and at one point, the alleged victim told her friend she had been groped by Diaz and later admitted the two had sex several times at his apartment, court documents said.

The girl initially denied having any physical sexual contact with Diaz but said they had been “talking dirty” through emails, documents said.

The detective allegedly uncovered hundreds of emails between the two from May 17 to 27, with Diaz saying he wanted to make love to the girl and that “the kissing is really nice and you are smoking hot.”

In a follow-up interview with the alleged victim, the girl acknowledged that Diaz had kissed her and touched her inappropriately both at his apartment and in his car, documents said.

Diaz is out of jail after posting bond on $15,000 bail. He is ordered to have no contact with the teen for two years while the criminal case is pending.

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