Ex-Lafayette Jeff choir teacher charged with child seduction, sexual battery
Charges, stemming from an investigation started in 2022, come a week after two families filed civil suits with similar allegations against Ja’Shon Burks. Plus, major WL levee project gets initial OK.
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EX-LAFAYETTE JEFF CHOIR TEACHER CHARGED WITH CHILD SEDUCTION, SEXUAL BATTERY
A week after the families of two Lafayette Jefferson students filed civil lawsuits claiming inappropriate touching and conduct by Ja’Shon Burks, the former high school choir director was arrested and charged Wednesday with 15 felony counts involving eight students.
Burks, 30, of Lafayette, was charged with 11 counts of child seduction and four counts of sexual battery tied to allegations that he put his hands under girls’ shirts during extended hugs or with the pretense of checking their breathing during voice lessons, put his hand on girls’ thighs, touched them on the buttocks and crotch and suggested to girls that they should come around when they were 18 so he could leave his wife for them.
Burks was being held Wednesday morning in the Tippecanoe County Jail.
Lafayette School Corp. Supt. Les Huddle and other LSC officials had no comment Wednesday, according to Cindy Gerlach, a district spokeswoman.
Based on a probable cause affidavit filed late Tuesday, some of the criminal allegations parallel ones laid out in a pair of civil lawsuits filed June 13 by families identified as “Mary, John and Jane Doe.” As of Wednesday, Burks had not responded to those claims in court. Attempts to reach Burks or an attorney Wednesday on the criminal charges were not immediately successful.
According to court documents, Lafayette police started investigating in September 2022, the day students went to Lafayette Jeff Principal Mark Preston to report inappropriate conduct. The charging information says Preston took the allegations to Lafayette police the same day.
In interviews with police, the eight students – each younger than 18 – told investigators about similar experience:
One student said that as she tried on a costume for a fall choir show, she asked Burks to zip up the back. She said he told her that he would prefer to unzip the dress. According to court documents, surveillance footage at the school showed Burks follow the student down a hallway and unzip her dress down her back.
A student, a senior this past school year, told police that sexual comments had been aimed at her since she was a freshman. She said Burks made comments to her over social media about her looks; hugged her as an excuse to slip his hand under her shirt, into her back pockets and beneath her underwear; and asked her to sit on his lap. She told police that Burks would ask her when she turned 18 and that “he would leave his wife” for her.
Other students said Burks would try to hold their hands, kiss the tops of their heads, reach under their shirts, discuss orgies and have students send him videos or pictures of themselves in show choir outfits for his approval. According to claims in court documents, some of the incidents happened in his office, on buses taken to performances or in messages send across social media. Students told police that several of them were blocked by Burks on social media after choir members confronted him about the allegations against him.
Burks, who came to Lafayette Jeff in 2019, was removed from the classroom after the investigation started. Lafayette school board minutes show the Burks resigned, effective Nov. 22.
The civil lawsuits, filed against Burks and LSC, say Burks was director of Lafayette Jeff’s Varsity Singers and Accents, as well as assistant director of the show choir First Edition and the Expressions choir program.
No court dates had been listed in online court records for Burks, as of Wednesday afternoon. According to jail records, Burks was still being held Wednesday evening. The prosecutor recommended a $500,000 surety bond or $50,000 cash.
MASSIVE WEST LAFAYETTE LEVEE PROJECT GETS INITIAL NOD
A major development on the West Lafayette levee, at the northeast corner of State Street and River Road, skated with ease through its first hearing Wednesday, with a unanimous recommendation from the Area Plan Commission to rezone the land.
Landmark Properties’ planned development, covering 5.23 acres and reworking streets in the area, includes two, seven-story buildings with a mix of 590 apartment units with up to 1,350 beds and 21,700 square feet of ground-floor retail space. That’s up from the 1,200 beds mentioned in draft plans filed with the APC earlier this year. The project also would include a pair of interior parking lots – one with 247 spaces, the other with 173 spaces.
The project would cover a footprint that stretches from the River/State intersection to the east side of Howard Avenue and covers several existing properties, including Campus Inn, Bruno’s, Rubia Flower and Hacienda.
Wednesday night’s hearing didn’t reveal a ton new that wasn’t already in this from last week. But it’s still a lot. Click the story below for more:
Next stop: Final zoning approval rests with the West Lafayette City Council, which will meet 6:30 p.m. July 10 at West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.
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