A 40-year-old Los Banos teacher landed behind bars Wednesday, following a five-month investigation into his alleged sexual relationships with at least two teenage students.
Gary Bettencourt, who taught English and drama at Pacheco High School in Los Banos, is accused of sexual relationships with one alleged victim who is now 18 and another who now is 27, according to the Los Banos Police Department.
“It’s very disturbing,” Superintendent Steve Tietjen told reporters Wednesday. “You hope it never happens during your career, and when it does, it’s like a punch in the stomach. It’s a betrayal of the profession.”
Bettencourt was arrested at his Turlock home on suspicion of two counts of unlawful sexual intercourse, three counts of oral copulation with a minor and communicating with a minor for the purpose of committing a crime, according to authorities.
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Bettencourt’s 22-year-old girlfriend, Devyn M. Egan, also was arrested. Los Banos police believe she, too, had a sexual relationship with the 17-year-old student.
The younger alleged victim told detectives her sexual relationships with Bettencourt and Egan began in early 2015, when she was 17, and ended around June that same year, after she graduated from high school, police said.
Police believe the second alleged victim had a sexual relationship with Bettencourt more than 10 years ago, when she was between the ages of 15 and 17, acting Police Chief Ray Reyna Jr. told the Sun-Star.
“Both victims were students of Bettencourt’s during the relationships; however, only the first victim reported being involved in a relationship with both Bettencourt and Egan,” police said in a statement.
Egan was booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of unlawful sexual intercourse and oral copulation with a minor, as well as one count of contacting a minor to commit a sexual offense, according to Merced County Jail records.
The state Department of Justice is assisting Los Banos police in the ongoing investigation, including analyzing social media content.
Police hope additional victims will come forward.
“We believe there are more victims, and the detectives are working to identify them through the social media communications (seized),” Reyna Jr. said.
Bettencourt has worked for the Los Banos Unified School District since 2002. He was placed on administrative leave in September, when another teacher at the school alerted authorities to the potential misconduct, authorities have said.
Police also believe drugs and alcohol played a part in the relationship with at least one of the victims, Reyna Jr. said.
Next week at its regular meeting, the district’s governing board will place Bettencourt on unpaid leave retroactive to the day he was arrested, Tietjen said.
District officials said Bettencourt’s teaching credential has been suspended and a separate state investigation will determine whether he will be allowed to teach again in California.
According to the district’s website, Bettencourt taught literature, language, theater, and digital media and film production. He also was the director of the Pacheco Thespian Society and the school’s theater group.
“When a teacher violates their professional responsibility, we all are damaged,” Tietjen said. “We feel terribly for any child that might have come into contact with this kind of behavior.”
Egan graduated from Los Banos High School in 2009, where Bettencourt worked before Pacheco High opened, Tietjen confirmed.
It was unclear when their relationship began or whether she was a student in any of Bettencourt’s classes.
Egan was issued a substitute teaching credential in Stanislaus County in July 2015, according to state records. Whether she has worked as a substitute teacher in either Stanislaus or Merced counties could not be confirmed Wednesday. Officials in the county offices of education could not be reached for comment.
Tietjen, who has been with the district for nine years, said this kind of situation has never occurred in his career.
“As a district, we want to assure parents we will do everything we can to make sure our children are safe and that we have the best employees possible,” Tietjen said.
Teachers receive training on social media conduct and boundaries with students, and students also are taught lessons on “digital citizenship” at early ages, Tietjen said. He also urged parents to keep a close eye on students’ online activity.
As parents waited at Pacheco High to pick up their students after school on Wednesday, many were shocked by the news.
Olga Martinez, whose son is a freshman at the school, said she learned of the allegations from watching the news and wished the school had done more to inform parents.
“What if we didn’t see the news?” she said. “This is something we need to know.”
Martinez said the lines of communication with her son are strong, and she and her husband consistently ask him about school and his teachers. “We tell him, ‘If you see something like this or if they say something inappropriate, tell someone,’ ” she said.
Martinez doesn’t allow her children to have cellphones, and they only access the Internet to play games, she said. She’s wary of the possibility of her children communicating with people online.
“You don’t know how they look or their age,” she said. “They could lie. You just never know.”