Gwinnett teachers defend ex-coworker accused of student sex assault

Several Parkview High School teachers came to court Wednesday to defend a former coworker accused of an extended sexual relationship with a student.

Michael "Mikey" Henderson resigned this month when the alleged inappropriate acts, which are said to have ended in 2016, were revealed to Gwinnett County Schools administrators. When confronted with the allegations, the former University of Georgia wide receiver admitted the relationship to school officials and police, Gwinnett County police officer R.A. Herndon testified.

More than a dozen family members, friends and former co-workers came to Henderson’s hearing, intending to serve as character witnesses. Three were Parkview teachers who worked closely with him. Only one teacher was allowed to speak.

Mike Demarest, an English teacher and track coach at Parkview, told the court Henderson would frequently volunteer to fix technology problems or help buy snacks for athletes going to track meets. Demarest said he was not aware of the alleged relationship.

He called Henderson “one of the more selfless employees at Parkview High School.”

According to the police testimony, the relationship between Henderson and the student, then 16, began over Snapchat.

The correspondence between Henderson and the now-18-year-old girl began as flirtatious, but escalated into an exchange of nude photos and eventually sexual contact on school grounds, Herndon said.

Henderson, who is charged with sexual assault, said he “felt trapped” after his first sexual encounter with the victim, according to the officer.

Henderson and the student, who he met when he was her tenth-grade geometry teacher, had 20 to 30 sexual encounters before, during and after school, the officer said. The first encounter was allegedly the day after “Meet the Teacher” day at Parkview in August 2015, shortly before the victim began her junior year.

Through December 2016, the student performed oral sex on Henderson in an athletics press box, a closet, an office and a media classroom, Herndon said. Henderson did not perform any sexual acts on the victim but said in an email to her that they could have sexual intercourse after she graduated from high school, Herndon said.

The relationship was exposed after the victim told three friends at lunch in early May, Herndon testified.

The friends first told a school clerk about the allegations, but the clerk did not report the allegations to authorities or administrators. That clerk has been fired by Gwinnett County Public Schools and is under investigation by the school district's human resources department.

Police have reviewed about 150 emails exchanged between Henderson and the victim. About half of those were school-related and half were sexual, the officer said. The student took Henderson’s media and broadcasting class as a junior and senior, while the alleged relationship was ongoing, Herndon said.

The victim told police that she sent multiple nude photos of herself to Henderson via Snapchat and that Henderson sent at least one photo of his penis to her via Snapchat. Police could not recover the Snapchat messages, which disappear after a user reads or views them.

Cynthia Cooper, a girls’ basketball coach at Parkview who worked with Henderson as a co-teacher, and assistant varsity football coach Willis Sudderth also appeared in court on Henderson’s behalf.

There is no Gwinnett County Public Schools policy regarding teachers speaking in court when a criminal case involves a teacher or student, spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. 

“It is a personal decision and they are speaking as an individual not on behalf of the school or district,” Roach said.

Henderson is one of four Gwinnett County teachers arrested on sexual assault charges this month. All four cases involve students.

Henderson was granted $25,000 bond Wednesday. He was released from jail shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday, jail records show.

He is barred from speaking to the victim and potential witnesses, including the friends the victim told of the relationship.

He is also not allowed to enter any Gwinnett County school.

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