On Thursday morning, Darrell Lake saw victory and Georgia lawmakers smelled blood.
A judge tossed the felony sexual assault count against the DeKalb County coach, who was found with a partially nude student in a classroom. The charge was reduced to misdemeanor sexual battery because of a loophole in Georgia law.
Now, his case is further fuel in the state legislature to pass a change to the law before the session ends next week, said state Rep. Scot Turner.
“It is a must-pass piece of legislation,” the Holly Springs Republican, who is co-sponsoring a bill to make the change, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The bill, whose primary sponsor is Grayson Republican state Rep. Joyce Chandler, would make coaches and paraprofessionals subject to the law against sexual contact with students. The crime of sexual assault by persons with supervisory or disciplinary authority now only applies to teachers and administrators, the Georgia Supreme Court found.
The court last year tossed the conviction of an ex-Cherokee County coach in a case involving a 16-year-old girl for that reason.
DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston objected to reducing Lake’s charge by Judge Nora Polk, but understood.
“The law is clear,” she said in a statement. “It is an unfortunate loophole that can only be remedied by a change in the legislation as currently written.”
Lake’s attorney Jackie Patterson called the decision to reduce the charges a “major victory,” Channel 2 Action News reported.
Lake was found by an assistant principal at Cedar Grove High in a classroom with an 18-year-old student, according to a DeKalb County Schools police report.
The coach, who was clothed, said the student had pulled her pants down; the student said Lake did it but that he hadn’t touched her inappropriately.
The felony sexual assault charge has a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison. The most Lake now could get is a year.
The DA said she hopes Georgia lawmakers close the loophole.
And, on Lake’s case, she added: “...if further investigation reveals new evidence that supports additional charges, we will proceed accordingly.”