WILLMAR - With his victim saying in a statement that “I did not ask to be broken,” a former high school teacher apologized for having sexual contact with her when she was 15 and his student.
Chad Jeffrey Akerson, 35, of Willmar, was sentenced to a three-year prison sentence Monday in Kandiyohi County District Court. The sentence was stronger than state sentencing guidelines recommend for his crime of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Akerson was 29 and his victim was 15 when he began having regular sexual intercourse with her in January 2010. He was her teacher and her coach. The sexual contact occurred in his classroom and in other places at Willmar Senior High School, at his home, at her home and in his vehicle. At the time of his arrest a year ago, he had been a physical education teacher at Ashby High School.
Judge Michael Thompson found that several aggravating factors that warranted the tougher sentence. Guidelines suggest a stayed sentence, meaning Akerson would not have been incarcerated unless he violated the terms set by the court.
Thompson said “there was particular cruelty used here,” and told him he would be going to prison immediately. Akerson left the courtroom in handcuffs, escorted by a corrections officer.
Before he sentenced Akerson, Thompson talked about the crime. “You forgot what your role in life is,” he said. Rather than act as a mentor, coach and teacher, Thompson continued, “You went after what was available.”
Thompson told Akerson that prison would not be easy, but he needed to think about the young woman whose life had been affected in ways that will last much longer than his prison sentence.
“This was no fault of the girl; she did nothing wrong,” he said. “She trusted people she should have been able to trust.”
The aggravating factors in the sentence included the cruelty of Akerson’s manipulation of the girl, his violation of her privacy by having sex with her in places where she was entitled to feel safe, the long-term manipulation of the victim and his using his position of authority in manipulating her.
The hearing included statements from the victim and from Akerson. Assistant County Attorney Aaron Welch said the case should be a wake-up call for the community.
The victim said in her statement that she expected some of her worst days in high school might be about hair and clothes, with the possibility of a few heartbreaks. The statement written by the victim was read aloud in court by the county’s victim services coordinator Jen Hovland.
A guy did pursue her in her freshman year, the victim wrote, but he was her teacher and coach.
Akerson made her laugh and feel good about herself and fall in love with him, she wrote. “I believed everything he said to me.”
But he also isolated her by being angry if she wasn’t available to him when he wanted. He made her a jealous person, she said, and damaged her relationship with her parents and family.
Akerson told her that bad things would happen to him if their “relationship” was found out, that he would lose his job and career and would be ostracized in the community. “He didn’t say that would happen to me, too,” she wrote.
Since the abuse became known, she wrote, she and her best friend no longer speak because of the awkwardness, and people often stare at her.
“He did this to himself, but he also did it to me and others,” she wrote. “I did not ask to be broken.”
Welch said the county attorney’s office had been troubled from the beginning that “everywhere the investigation went, people knew what was going on. This community knew what was happening, ... and no one did anything about it.”
Everyone in the community “needs to take a look at themselves in the mirror,” he said. “If they knew something was going on and didn’t say anything, we’re all in on this.”
Welch said he hopes people in the community “try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Akerson’s attorney Ryan Garry said he agreed that the victim had lost a lot because of Akerson’s actions, but he pointed out that Akerson had lost a lot, too.
“How does a once teacher of the year come to find himself in this position,” he asked. “It’s very sad.”
Akerson apologized to the victim and her family in his statement. He admitted he had made many mistakes.
“I do pray at some point you can find it in your hearts to forgive me,” he said.
Akerson also apologized to the court system and to his family, saying he had wrecked friendships and relationships with his family.
“I am truly sorry,” he said.
In addition to a three-year sentence, Akerson was given credit for 37 days he had served in jail since his arrest. Thompson said he would likely serve two-thirds of his prison sentence if he doesn’t get into trouble in prison.
Thompson also ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine plus court fees and restitution of $2,181.11.
He was ordered to register as a predatory offender and to serve 10 years on probation after the end of his prison sentence.