Judge rejects reduced bail for Fresno High teacher accused of sex crimes

Fresno High School teacher Darren Klassen faces 37 charges of unlawful sex with underaged student.
Fresno High School teacher Darren Klassen faces 37 charges of unlawful sex with underaged student.

Wearing a red jail jumpsuit and shackles, suspended Fresno High School teacher Darren Klassen asked a judge Tuesday to reduce his $860,000 bail so he could live with his parents until he resolves 37 criminal charges against him that allege sexual misconduct with an underaged former student.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Brian Alvarez said no.

Alvarez said Klassen’s multiple charges of unlawful sex with a minor, oral copulation and lewd acts upon a child are serious violations of the public’s trust.

Alvarez made the ruling after prosecutor Rick Thomas told the court that Klassen also had a prior inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old student at Madera South High, where he taught for more than a decade before coming to Fresno High. Klassen ended up marrying the Madera South student and has children with her, his lawyer said.

Klassen, 46, was arrested Sept. 24 after the girl at Fresno High, since graduated, told her parents about her sexual relationship with Klassen. Her parents then notified police.

A police detective’s affidavit says the girl began having a relationship with Klassen when she was a 15-year-old freshman. Shortly after she turned 16 in November 2013, she started having sex with Klassen, the affidavit says. She said the first encounter was in his classroom. She told detectives it was the first time she had sexual relations with anyone.

The affair then escalated to having sex with Klassen three to five days a week in the 2014-15 school year, the girl told detectives.

A criminal complaint alleges the unlawful sex began in November 2013 and ended in July this year. The sex happened in Klassen’s classroom and inside a house, the affidavit says.

During the relationship, the girl, who graduated in June, said she sent hundreds of sexually provocative photographs of herself to Klassen via text messages. At the direction of a detective, the girl called Klassen. The affidavit says Klassen answered the telephone and admitted in the recorded telephone call to having sex with the girl.

After Klassen’s arrest, Fresno Unified School District put him on unpaid leave. The school district also sent a copy of the criminal complaint to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which automatically suspended Klassen’s teaching credential.

Klassen initially was free on $80,000 bail, but at his arraignment on Oct. 9, Alvarez increased it to $860,000.

At his hearing Tuesday, Klassen’s parents sat in the courtroom while defense attorney Adam Rodriguez argued before Alvarez that the defendant, who has no prior criminal record, was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the public. “He has strong ties to the community,” said Rodriguez, who submitted several letters from Klassen’s friends and co-workers “who have been affected by him in a positive way.”

In arguing for reduced bail, Rodriguez said there is only one alleged victim and that Klassen was not charged with forcing the girl to have sex. He also noted for the record that prosecutors charged Klassen with multiple crimes for each act of unlawful sex.

Thomas, however, said, “Each count is a separate and distinct crime.” He also said Klassen faces up to 27 years in prison if convicted.

Thomas said the letters of support don’t show a true picture of Klassen. “He has a manipulative side,” Thomas said, noting Klassen’s affair with the Madera South High student. Because the girl was 18 years old, it was not illegal, Thomas said. “But it was still inappropriate because he was a teacher,” he told Alvarez.

Rodriguez, however, told Alvarez that the Madera South student dated Klassen into her 20s and married him when she was 28 years old. His wife, who did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, is now 33 years old.

During the hearing, Thomas brought up another example of alleged manipulation by Klassen: While out of custody, Klassen went to a hospital and told people he was suicidal. Thomas said he believes Klassen has a drinking problem.

In the end, Alvarez said the sheer number of serious charges was enough to keep Klassen’s bail at $860,000.

Klassen’s next court hearing is Nov. 13.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts