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Bail set for Jamestown teacher accused of sexual assault

Richard Laqua, along with attorney Lawrence Kropp, listen to the charges Wednesday in Southeast District Court in Jamestown. Keith Norman / Forum Communications

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Bail was set at $5,000 for veteran teacher Richard Allen Laqua, 54, Jamestown, who was formally charged with two Class C felonies Wednesday.

Laqua was charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of luring a minor by computer or other electronic means. He is accused of touching the buttocks of a juvenile girl over the age of 15 as well as sending her explicit text messages on Nov. 7.

Laqua is a construction technology instructor at the James Valley Career and Technology Center. A 23-year veteran teacher in Jamestown Public Schools, Laqua was suspended Wednesday by Superintendent Robert Toso. The suspension is with pay pending the school district's internal investigation.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the school, the girl's family and the community are going to have to go through this," Toso said.

Toso said the alleged victim is not one of Laqua's students and he is unsure how the teacher obtained her phone number.

A phone call to the office of Laqua's attorney, Lawrence Kropp, was not returned Wednesday afternoon. Attempts to reach Laqua for comment were unsuccessful.

Laqua's personnel file with Jamestown Public Schools shows few complaints.

The 1976 graduate of Valley City State University routinely received positive comments on his yearly performance reviews.

He was rated as "effective," the highest of three categories, in every category except a few areas.

One of the reviews with the most criticism came on Feb. 5, 2003, when the then-called James Valley Vocational/Technical Center then-director Dan Schneibel said his students need to discard unused equipment and clean up the lab and classroom.

In 1996, Laqua received a letter from then-Director Arlo Stevik regarding student writings on the chalkboard and classroom walls. The letter was placed into his personnel file because he "lacked professional judgment" in not reporting the incidents.

His March 14, 2011, evaluation from John Lynch, James Valley Career and Technology Center director, said "The teacher has helped to install a positive behavior in the students by making an environment that is fun and non-threatening. Well done."

The same evaluation also said. "He has established a good rapport with his students ..."

Prior to teaching in Jamestown, Laqua taught a similar class for six years in Jud.

The district does not have a policy regarding electronic communication between staff and students, Toso said. However, a committee did meet this month regarding implementing one, he said.

Jamestown Public Schools cautions its staff regarding using social media and electronic communications with students.

On Wednesday, former students expressed support for their instructor.

Nick Landscoot, Jamestown High School Class of 2010, said he took Laqua's class as a freshman. He enjoyed the course, saying Laqua was funny and "an all-around cool teacher."

Landscoot said the allegations against Laqua took him by surprise.

"I thought it was crazy. I wouldn't think he would do something like that," he said.

In an email, former student Shannon Henderson said she took Laqua's class in 2001 and 2002. She said she also enjoyed Laqua's class and didn't feel he treated students, including female students, inappropriately.

"I never felt uncomfortable around him and would never have thought of him doing such a thing. I was shocked to see that in the news. I enjoyed him as a teacher and trusted him a lot. I still do," she said via email.

At Jamestown High School on Wednesday, students expressed a range of emotions, said Riley Spenningsby, student body president. Teachers visited with students about it in first-hour classes and over lunch. Students were still unsure what to believe, she said.

"It's still kind of, like, confusing for all of us," Spenningsby said.

Southeast District Judge John Greenwood said conditions of Laqua's bail include him to remain employed and not to have contact with the victim or any witnesses. Laqua is also not allowed on public school grounds.

If Laqua cannot maintain his employment while remaining off school grounds, his attorney, Lawrence Kropp, can bring concerns to the court, Greenwood said.

Assistant State's Attorney Troy LeFevre asked for the $5,000 bail, saying he understood Laqua and his family all live in Jamestown although he was concerned about the seriousness of the charges.

Kropp did not object to LeFevre's recommendation.

Both Class C felonies have a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. If convicted, Laqua must also register as a sex offender for a minimum of 15 years. He could also lose his teaching license.