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BRUSH — The person who decided “Homegrown Happiness!” should be the tagline for this Eastern Plains town may have had someone like Bradley Bass in mind.

Bass, 31, works at the high school he attended. He’s a perpetual rule-follower, and married his high school sweetheart. She laughs at the times she’d tried — unsuccessfully — to get him to jaywalk. 

But Google Bass’ name and a different picture emerges: Not the caring and quiet assistant principal whose family has deep roots in Brush, a town of 5,300 residents. But a school administrator referenced in multiple police department news releases — and charged this summer with possessing child pornography. 

Bass’ case has for months riveted and divided this conservative community, once a pitstop for cowboys driving cattle from Texas to Montana. Officials write the town name with an exclamation point — Brush! — and highlight its rural charm.

☀ UPDATE

The case began in April, when Bass and secondary schools director Scott Hodgson were investigating sexual images that had been consensually shared between students at Brush High School. They took photos of the images as evidence, transferring them from a work cellphone to a cloud-based school server. No one has accused the administrators of keeping the photos for sexual gratification. They thought it was the correct way to document the case, supporters of the administrators say. 

But under state statute, knowingly possessing any explicit images of kids is child pornography, no matter the intent. Law enforcement officers investigating are one of the few exceptions to the rule. Even parents could be charged.

Experts in higher education and law say Bass’ case demonstrates a rare but career-ruining risk for school administrators who may lack the training on how to deal with sexting, image exchanges that have become increasingly common among students today and were not contemplated when child pornography laws were drafted. 

It’s uncommon for prosecutors to pursue charges in cases where there is no ill intent, experts say. But the Bass case isn’t unprecedented. In 2008, an assistant high school principal in Loudoun County, Virginia, was arrested for child pornography in a strikingly similar case. 

“It never occurred to me that my actions could be regarded as suspect,” the Virginia assistant principal wrote in a 2009 op-ed. “I was conducting a legitimate school investigation with children’s welfare in mind, and I did so in the presence and with the full knowledge of other school officials.” The charges were thrown out, but the prosecution ruined the assistant principal’s reputation and career, he wrote. More than a dozen years later, he’s still concerned about his name being tied to the allegations in Google search results.

Road signs marking the arrival to the eastern Colorado town of Brush, featuring the taglines “Homegrown Happiness!” and “All-America City.” (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

Bass and Hodgson, 38, who is charged with complicity to commit sexual exploitation of a child, could face several years in prison if convicted. Each man would have to register as a sex offender. Hodgson’s case is expected to go to trial. Bass has a hearing Thursday afternoon. 

The Brush Police Department and 13th Judicial District Attorney Travis Sides say state law is clear on the issue. 

“The simple fact is that there is no justifiable reason for the school to collect and retain (particularly retain on the school computer system) nude, semi-nude, and scantily clad images of juvenile students,” Brush police Chief Derek Bos said in a statement. “This case is about the safety of our children.”

Sides said the cases involving Bass and Hodgson are a “different ballgame” than the production and distribution of child pornography that’s “horrific stuff.” But his office files charges when there’s evidence a crime has been committed, or a statute has been violated. 

“It’s a serious thing, when an adult has nude images of a juvenile on their device,” Sides said. “The DA’s office, we have some discretion, obviously, in filing charges. But we also don’t get to write the statute.”

Many residents have taken the administrators’ side.

Commentaries have run in the local newspaper voicing support for the two men and accusing the police department of irrevocably damaging their reputations and re-victimizing the students involved. Court hearings have been packed with Bass’ and Hodgson’s supporters. They sometimes protest outside the courthouse, Bass’ pink-cheeked toddler in tow. 

On a sweltering Wednesday in July, a woman driving a white Honda pulled over to say she’d gone to high school with Bass. She said she didn’t think he’d do such a thing. “We’ll be praying.”

The alleged victim in the case has also spoken up on both administrators’ behalf. Her parents have begged police and prosecutors to drop the charges.

The school handled the incident as best as possible, the alleged victim’s father said. The 17-year-old, once sociable and able to talk to anyone, has grown withdrawn in recent months. 

The case has begun to feel, the girl’s father said, like a “witch hunt.” 

Early life in Brush

Tressa and Bradley Bass started dating in high school, when she was a freshman and he was a junior.

They went to Colorado State University after graduating, married, and settled in the Fort Collins-area, where they pursued master’s degrees: Hers in social work and his in educational leadership. 

Bass started working at a Fort Collins high school. Their life was “picture perfect,” Tressa remembers. But a series of tragedies rocked her family starting when her father died unexpectedly in 2018. 

For a time, the couple drove back and forth between Fort Collins and Brush to help out on the family farm and ranch. Tressa’s father had been the primary operator of the farm before his death and she, her mother and her three sisters wanted to keep it going. 

The couple moved back to Brush in 2019. Bass learned to drive a semi to help with the wheat harvest. He helped maintain the lawns at the homes where Tressa’s mother and grandmother lived, something her father had done. 

By 2020, Tressa was due to have the couple’s first child. Two days before her due date, Tressa’s sister, Shelby Milleson, and her husband were in a bad car wreck. Milleson had a traumatic brain injury, a broken femur and internal bleeding. She slipped into a coma. Her husband died. They had been married only a month.

When Milleson was released from the hospital, Bass and Tressa moved in with Tressa’s mom and sister. For three months, the family juggled farm work with making sure Milleson was never alone. Doctors had warned she was at risk of having seizures. Bass cooked dinner every night. One day when Milleson was particularly down, he picked up flowers for her at the grocery store, Tressa said. 

Sonya and John Bass look through albums from the kitchen table in their home in Brush. The albums are filled with photos of their son Bradley, including high school graduation and prom photos with his now-wife Tressa. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Tressa gave birth to the couple’s second child, a son, in January. The family finally seemed to be getting back on track. 

Bass loved his job as assistant director of Brush High School and loved its 400 or so students. One colleague said he arrived early to a choir concert to bring a dress shirt to a student who didn’t have one. When a special education student’s parents couldn’t drive the boy to a school dance, Bass picked him up, chaperoned the dance and dropped him back off. He was disappointed he couldn’t attend both nights of a spring play. 

Tressa didn’t know much about how her husband was regarded at school. The couple didn’t usually talk about work. In a small town, Tressa thought it was important to “be respectful of people.” 

“Bradley’s kind of the same way,” she said. “He doesn’t really share a ton with me.”

“​​I actually never knew how good he was at his job until this happened,” she said, of the sexting case. 

Investigation began with an anonymous tip

On April 11, a parent emailed the district’s school resource officer, Jared Barham, a Brush police officer placed in the school. The parent said she wanted to talk about “young girls sending inappropriate pictures to others.” 

Barham didn’t immediately respond. He hadn’t been working in the school district that day. For several weeks between March and April, he was covering for a police officer out on paternity leave and was working night shifts at the city police department. 

On April 13, the parent sent in a tip through Safe2Tell, a confidential website and app run by the state. The tips are forwarded to school administrators and local police. Every tip must be followed up on, said Stacey Jenkins, Colorado’s Safe2Tell director.  

On April 14, Bass began speaking with students about the tip. Three boys told him they’d received sexual images from other students, and consented to having their phones searched, according to police department records. The phones were laid flat on the table, with the boys showing the administrators the photo roll or other folders, the records said. 

Many of the images were on Snapchat, a disappearing photo application. Administrators worried students could log into their Snapchat accounts on other devices and delete the images if they confiscated the phones. 

Hodgson was in the room for the searches. He and Bass agreed that copies of the images should be taken as evidence of which boys had what pictures, similar to how they would document marijuana being confiscated. 

Bradley and Tressa Bass, Brush High School sweethearts, on their wedding day. Tressa said Bradley’s primary concern during his prosecution has been for his students and co-workers. “God created someone special, someone beyond their years, someone hard to fully encapsulate because he is just so dang good and pure,” she wrote in a character letter supporting Bradley. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Using a work cellphone, Bass photographed the pictures on each boy’s phone between 9:22 a.m. and 10:33 a.m. 

A tech director instructed Bass on how to transfer the photos to a secure folder in the school’s network where other staff members couldn’t access it, according to police documents. 

That evening, Barham, the resource officer, spoke to the parent who’d sent in the tip. He tried to call Bass at 9:42 p.m. Bass didn’t answer. Barham doesn’t recall leaving a voicemail, but Bass said there was a message instructing him to call back before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Bass intended to call Barham back after 7 p.m. the next day. But it slipped his mind. There was no school — it was the Friday before Easter — and Bass spent the day helping his mother and father, who was recovering from open-heart surgery. That evening, he ended up driving to Winter Park to respond to a hate crime and a sexual assault alleged to have occured on a school-related trip. He slept in his car that night. 

The sexual assault allegation for several days consumed administrators who considered it more serious than the sexual images that were shared consensually. 

Phone logs show Barham called Bass at 7:39 p.m. Tuesday, the first day back at school after the four-day Easter weekend. They spoke for about 6 minutes. Barham asked for information about the case including the names of the students involved. He doesn’t remember what Bass said back, or if they set a timeframe for when Bass should turn the names over. 

In Bass’ recollection, he asked if it would be easier if they sat down and looked at a write-up of the incident together when Barham returned to the school. Barham agreed.

Much of April 19 was spent dealing with the sexual assault case. School officials believed they had more or less wrapped up the sexting case by April 20. 

Around April 27, Barham returned to the school after finishing his night shifts and asked Bass to send him a write-up of his investigation. Bass sent it the next day. It noted that all the photos “in question are on file with administration.” 

This was the first time police learned the administrators had retained copies of the sexual images, said Bos, the Brush police chief. 

A few days later, police opened another investigation, he said. 

This one was into Bass and Hodgson.

Child pornography laws date back to the 1970s and 1980s

Under Colorado state law, someone who knowingly views material of a child engaged in or used for “explicit sexual conduct” has sexually exploited a child. It doesn’t matter what the viewer’s intent was. 

Law enforcement officers, defense lawyers and court personnel are exempt. Doctors, social workers, therapists and psychologists are also exempt, if they view the images as part of a treatment or evaluation program. 

The reasoning is that possessing any sexually exploitative material re-victimizes the child. Laws just barring production and distribution of child pornography have been insufficient. 

But experts in higher education and law say child pornography statutes are outdated, designed for a time when teens didn’t have the ability to instantly send nude photos to each other using cell phones. Many of the statutes date back to the 1970s and 1980s, a period in which there was a focus on stamping out obscenity. Child pornography, at the time, was transmitted through the postal service or in 35mm film and slides. 

Now, “we’ve got teens who are generating shocking volumes of photos that would meet the statutory definition of sexually exploitative material,” said Laurie Kepros, director of sexual litigation at the Office of the State Public Defender.

A felony sex crime like child exploitation can result in prison time and a lifetime on the sex offender registry.

People convicted in Colorado can petition to be removed from the sex offender registry 10 or 20 years after they complete their sentence, including any required probation and treatment. Any job that deals with children or the public is likely off the table. Kepros has heard of a man denied access to a substance abuse treatment program over a sex offender conviction. 

There’s an “ick factor that you never want to deal with,” said Jonathan Phillips, an attorney who has represented dozens of people at the center of sexting investigations. “Like, ‘well, I would hire this kid — he looks good on paper — but what is this? Exploitation of a minor?’”

Prosecutors do have the discretion to not charge those who possess sexually exploitative materials. Phillips, who previously oversaw the prosecution of all child pornography cases in Fairfax, Virginia, encouraged prosecutors to decline taking up cases where minors were consensually sexting. 

John Flynn, district attorney of Erie County, New York, said New York has no exception for parents or school administrators who retain sexually explicit material to hand over to law enforcement. Technically they’re guilty of possessing child pornography. In reality, he wouldn’t charge those who could prove they were gathering the material just to turn it over.

It would be a “tougher call” if administrators were holding onto the images for their own record keeping, said Flynn, president of the National District Attorneys Association.  

Scott Hodgson, director of secondary schools, lives directly across from the Brush Secondary Campus. He had pushed for the district to have a school resource officer, hoping it would improve the relationship between the police department and he community. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“I think that this is an area that’s going to have some inconsistencies,” he said. “Individuals in our society who are peddling in this filth — I take that very seriously. And I prosecute these cases very, very strongly.”

“On the other hand, again, as long as you have a legitimate purpose, if you’re a school administrator, if you’re a parent, and you plan on turning it over to me, then I’m going to be reasonable,” he said. 

“Um, yeah, it’s child pornography”

Around 3 p.m. May 11, a police officer named David Hosier arrived at the Brush secondary school campus. 

He was looking for Bass, who had gone home to take care of his daughter, who had a stomach bug. Hosier ended up talking to Hodgson. 

“Well, long story short, the sexting case that came up recently,” Hosier said, settling in to talk in Hodgson’s office. He wanted to talk “a little bit about the images that were gathered with all that, being how they were taken, where they’re stored and gathering those.”

“K,” Hodgson said, according to body camera footage of the exchange. 

“Um, yeah, it’s child pornography,” Hosier said. He laughed. 

Hodgson, sitting behind a wooden desk covered in papers and folders, nodded. 

“One thousand, 2,000, 6,000 percent absolutely positively sure you guys should not have them. You know what I mean?” Hosier said.

“Right,” Hodgson said. 

Hosier said he had a search warrant for the electronic devices. He said it was “just in case,” and that he imagined the school would comply. 

“We probably need to have some more sit-down meetings with (the police department),” Hodgson said. “There’s a lot of similarities in things there. We have certain standards we have to meet as well. But, yeah, we can, we can work with you.”

“Well, yeah, ‘cause it is very illegal for you to have child pornography in any sense, in any case whatsoever, I’m not even going to sugarcoat it,” Hosier said. “If something breaks out, your system gets hacked, those are taken, you guys are in for some serious trouble. Parents, media, anything, everything.” He laughed. 

“We’re trying to keep this very low key,” Hosier said. “If I had a child and I found out that the school was in possession of my child’s child pornography, yeah. It would be a big issue.” He laughed.

Tressa Bass shows one of the T-shirts that were made and worn by students and others who wanted to show their support for her husband Bradley. The prosecution has been difficult, she says, because the couple and their family are private people and have been forced into the spotlight. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

As they waited for Bass to come back to school, Hosier and Hodgson talked about the decision of teenagers to send sexual images. Under a state law, minors who consensually send or receive sexual images could be fined $50 and be required to attend an educational program

“Something like this comes up, or later on in life and it’s held over their head and it just ruins them. Some kids have even committed suicide over it,” Hosier said. “It can wreck a kid’s life. It’s upon them own selves to do it, but at the same time they’re so young, their brains aren’t where they need to be, thinking of the rest of their life, when they do stuff like that.” 

Law enforcement’s goal was to “eradicate” the images, he said. 

Brush School District Superintendent Bill Wilson came into Hodgson’s office. He was dressed casually and had just come from the police station, where he’d been asked to meet with the chief of police.

Bass arrived soon after. Hosier said he’d need to take Bass’ personal and work cellphones and other devices. 

“No issues here,” Bass said. He said he would fully cooperate. 

Hosier took photos of Bass’ office and had him unlock drawers to see if there were additional electronic devices. He had Bass turn over the passcodes to both cellphones. They were the same: The six-digit date of his wedding anniversary. 

At several points, Hosier said he was concentrating on getting rid of the explicit images, which were still on Bass’ work cellphone. 

“Right now, I’m just kind of focusing on getting what has the child pornography on it out of here so it does not have any way of ever getting out again,” he said at one point. “Like I said, this is a festering sore, and they’re gonna get rid of it 2,000% ‘cause I can just imagine if a parent found out that you had pictures of their daughter nude somewhere in the cloud. Woo. I wouldn’t want to be anybody trying to explain that one.” He laughed.  

Thirty-one images were found, many of them copies of the same pictures. Seven had nudity; the rest did not qualify as child pornography. Four of the seven images were of the alleged victim. The identity of the person pictured in the last three photos is unknown. 

Police are conducting a separate investigation into the minors who sent or received sexual images, which involved more students than the alleged victim in the Bass and Hodgson cases. 

Of 11 girls referenced in June arrest documents for Hodgson and Bass, five went to other schools, three were dismissed as uninvolved, one’s identity could not be determined and one was found not to meet the criteria for being pictured in child pornography. Six boys were also mentioned, not all of whom were involved.

The district attorney will decide if charges should be pursued, Bos said.

Police ask the community to “forgive these atrocities”

While Hosier was at the school, Bos met with Wilson. The police chief told the superintendent he was concerned an administrator had retained images that qualified as child pornography. His department had looked at resources posted by professional associations and heard from schools and police chiefs, all of whom said schools should contact law enforcement in a sexting investigation. 

He showed Wilson a press release he’d drafted. He changed a sentence at Wilson’s request and agreed to hold the statement until Wilson had a chance to tell the school board.

The next day, the Brush Police Department issued the press release on Facebook. 

“It is with heavy hearts that we are letting the community know that a member of the school administrative staff at the Brush School District is under investigation for possession of child pornography,” the statement said. 

Law enforcement appreciated the school’s cooperation in investigating an administrator who had “unlawfully collected pornographic images of juveniles.” 

“The Police Department and the School District are grateful for the support of the community as we endeavor to protect and serve the victims of this heinous crime,” it said. 

The message almost immediately sparked a firestorm. Some people commenting on the Facebook post condemned the school, saying they knew of past instances where district officials had taken it upon themselves to conduct investigations they felt should have been left to the police. Others cautioned commenters against making snap judgments without knowing all the facts. 

Bass and, later, Hodgson were placed on paid leave. 

“We ask the community to join us in moving forward on the pathway to forgive these atrocities and begin to focus on rebuilding trust in our teachers and schools.”

— Brush Police Department

On June 3, the police department issued another statement saying Bass had turned himself in after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was booked into the jail on four counts of sexual exploitation of a child, the release said, and was able to post bond of $2,500. The district attorney had asked that bond be set at $10,000.

The statement was less complimentary of the school district. 

Police officers had tried to work with school staff during the initial sexting investigation, but administrators “withheld pertinent information,” the release said, “hampering our investigation.” 

“While the actions of the school staff may not have been for personal gratification, there is no justifiable reason for the school district to collect and store such images of its students,” the release said. “Even though this incident overwhelmingly saddens us, we as a department still support and trust our teachers.” 

On June 16, the police department released its third statement on the investigations saying they’d worked with the district attorney’s office to get a warrant to arrest Hodgson. 

The release distanced the police from the administrators’ actions, saying the department had not requested, encouraged or condoned the investigation or the collection of the images.  

“Brush (police department) was kept in the dark as to the school administrators’ illegal actions for the course of a few weeks,” the release said. “We ask the community to join us in moving forward on the pathway to forgive these atrocities and begin to focus on rebuilding trust in our teachers and schools.  If you see a teacher or staff member, please thank them for all that they do.”

“As difficult as this situation has been,” the release said, “the Brush Police Department will continue to be transparent with the community in all matters, particularly when it comes to the safety of our children.”

“It could have been handled completely different”

Barham, the school resource officer, wrote in police documents that he wasn’t able to follow up on the case until April 27, because he was covering night shifts. That day, he met with the girl pictured in some of the photos and her parents.

The girl’s father said he “as much as possible” wanted “this just to be dropped.” Barham said he was required to do an investigation and ensure the images weren’t being distributed beyond the consenting parties. Barham told the girl’s parents his goal was to make sure the issue was investigated thoroughly and quickly to avoid forcing the girl to relive it.

About a month later Hosier interviewed the parents and girl again. Her father expressed frustration with the wording of the press release, and said it felt like the issue kept being dragged up. 

He’d been impressed with how Bass handled the situation and that Bass was someone who usually “crosses all t’s and (dots) all the i’s.” 

The alleged victim’s parents outside the Morgan County Justice Center in Fort Morgan. They have spoken out in favor of the administrators and feel like the case was a missed opportunity for police to educate the school on how to handle sexting investigations. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

When Bass talked to the girl, her parents were in the room and he hadn’t shown them the images. Bass had the girl write down the names of people she’d sent pictures to and said he’d retained evidence of the case for discipline or law enforcement purposes. 

“Whether you guys didn’t agree with how he handled the investigation, I have no idea what your guys’ protocols are and that kind of stuff. I don’t. That’s not my business to say,” the girl’s father told Hosier. “The problem I have with the whole deal is when Chief Bos put that out on Facebook and you label it child pornography, you tie my daughter to it.”

“In my opinion it could have been handled completely different,” he said, later in the interview, which took place May 25. “And again I support you guys 100% ‘cause I know you guys are in a shitty situation. I just, it’s tough for me because now (my daughter)’s tied to child pornography. One of the best administrators we have in the school is tied to child pornography.”

“Bradley, if he does get terminated,” he said, at another point, “my daughter’s tied to it. She’s devastated about that.”

Hosier said he understood completely and that Bos had spent some time weighing whether to issue a press release. Not putting out a statement might have come across as the police protecting the school, at a time when there have been controversies about classroom curriculum and school board members “not being held accountable” covered in the news, Hosier said. 

Hosier also asked the girl to confirm she was pictured in various images, which had been partially blacked out.

“You two don’t have to look,” he said to the girl’s parents, laughing, according to body camera footage of the exchange.  

Hosier placed several images in front of the girl one by one, at one point describing what body part was pictured and at other times describing the image’s background. The girl, sitting between her parents, nodded when she recognized a photo of herself. She quietly said “yeah.” Her father looked away. 

Hosier also showed her a blacked out photo of another person, whose identity he was unsure of. He asked the girl if she could name the person pictured, based on a username at the top of the image. 

He gave the girl a pamphlet about victim’s rights. He said he was there for her if she was bullied or made to feel uncomfortable at school. 

Sexting a thorny area for administrators

The issue of students sexting raises thorny questions for administrators. While experts say school districts should turn a sexting investigation over to police — in large part, to protect themselves — educators have grappled with the harsh consequences that can accompany a sexting charge, a felony for consenting minors in many states, said Tom Hutton, interim executive director of the Education Law Association. It’s no longer a felony in Colorado. 

Administrators may worry they will ruin a kid’s life by calling the police, or that people won’t report wrongdoing for fear the situation will “get blown up improperly,” said Robert Hachiya, an associate professor of educational leadership at Kansas State University. 

Schools are obligated to respond to cases of child abuse or potential violations of a federal gender equity law, which could include bullying or harassment based on a sexual image.

It’s a complex area of law that can have big consequences, Hutton said. School districts need to have a protocol in place for how to investigate sexting cases to avoid improvising during a time-sensitive investigation, he said. 

“For the most part, everything Brush police said they didn’t want to happen has happened — all the negative impacts to the students have happened.”

Scott Hodgson

The state’s Education Department referred a question about administrators’ training on sexting to a school safety center within the state Department of Public Safety. That center educates parents and students about the dangers of sexting and sexting laws. Investigating sexting cases, though, should be handled by law enforcement and is “outside the scope of the center’s authority,” said Colorado Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Patricia Billinger.  

National associations provide some guidance. Law enforcement agencies are often expected to be a resource. The subject has also been a topic of conversation at professional conferences and training for years, experts in higher education said. 

Education officials and law enforcement may look at sexting cases differently, due to their backgrounds. 

Schools often keep detailed documentation of disciplinary incidents in case a suspended or expelled student’s parents protest or file a lawsuit. Administrators unfamiliar with the sexting statutes may fall back on those procedures, according to Jesse Weins, an Arizona State University lecturer who has extensively researched sexting. 

By contrast, police often see the issue of child pornography in starker terms. School officials wouldn’t retain a small amount of methamphetamine to prove the substance was an illegal drug, Weins said. Law enforcement apply the same logic to child pornography.

“They’re saying, ‘Well, of course, you can’t keep your own illicit contraband, you know,’” he said. “You would never hold back some drugs and say, ‘We need to keep some of these drugs here at the school.’”

Friction between the police and the school is one of the main reasons why administrators can get in trouble over a student sexting case, Weins said. 

“That’s really what this sounds like,” he said. “It’s people angry about the others not doing what they were supposed to or what they were expected to.”

Wilson, the Brush school superintendent, said the district is working on a policy for how to handle sexting investigations. The district is also trying to end its agreement to have a school resource officer on its campuses, has expanded its policy allowing student belongings to be searched, and banned cellphones at school, a move protested by more than 700 people, according to a petition. It also declined a Brush police department offer to provide active shooter response training; it plans to use another organization for training. 

Hodgson said he’d attended training that touched on the topic but doesn’t remember anything specifically said about how to investigate sexting cases. 

Bass said he’d never been trained on the issue.

Bos, the police chief, said the department is happy to help with training requests. It’s not clear why police didn’t tell the school to stop investigating before the search warrant was signed.

“It felt like they didn’t care”

One morning in July, dozens of people stood outside the Morgan County courthouse in Fort Morgan, waiting for a hearing on the Bass case. Many wore maroon shirts calling to “free” Bass and Hodgson. Some gathered to pray before heading into the building. 

Hodgson, who attended the hearing, said he hoped the charges wouldn’t discourage students from using the Safe2Tell application. The investigation has been tough for Hodgson’s family. His oldest child, who will be going into eighth grade, has been on the receiving end of hurtful comments, he said. From his home, he can see the front door of the secondary school campus where he should have already returned to work. School starts next week.

“For the most part, everything Brush police said they didn’t want to happen has happened — all the negative impacts to the students have happened,” said Hodgson, who followed his parents into education. 

The parents of the girl pictured, who also attended the hearing, later said the police interview re-victimized their daughter. Her father no longer supports the police department. 

Scott Hodgson, director of secondary schools, lives directly across from the Brush Secondary Campus with his wife Catherine and sons River, 13, right, and Talon, 9. From his front door, he can see activity at the campus, where students and teachers are preparing for the start of a new school year. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The girl’s parents don’t view their daughter as a victim. She made a stupid mistake and is paying the consequences. She’s lost friends. She was punished at home. Now, everyone knows she’s the girl in the pictures. They lay the blame for the situation on themselves, as parents. 

The police department’s message was “we care about the victim,” the girl’s parents said. “But, when we told them how the victim felt, it felt like they didn’t care.” 

Bos defended Hosier, who has completed at least three trainings related to investigating sexual assault, according to his personnel file. Hosier is a well-trained and highly skilled investigator, Bos said in a written statement, and he’s confident Hosier’s techniques are “within the acceptable standards and best practices of how to conduct such investigations.”

“There is far more to an interview than simply asking questions. Different techniques are employed to help direct the conversation,” he said. 

Bos said he respected the comments made by the father of the alleged victim. But there could be additional victims in the case who don’t have a say, he said. There was an unknown person pictured in three images retained on the school cell phone. Police documents said the images “were all of the same” — someone wearing a shirt of the same color and pattern.

Police are no longer trying to determine their identity.

The investigation is not about miscommunication but about student safety, Bos said. 

“Every time the images touch the internet, there’s a chance that they get spread somewhere else inadvertently or stolen by somebody else or further transmitted, whether you intend to or not,” Bos said. They could lie dormant for years and resurface, he said. 

The department has been cautious, consulting a variety of resources before making its decision, Bos said. Bass’ claim “of total ignorance doesn’t make sense” to Bos. In his mind, a lot of it comes down to common sense. 

“I base that off reaching out to other people in the educational field. I haven’t found anybody who says ‘I would have collected the photos,’” he said. “All of the stuff that we looked at is publicly available. It’s something that in a two minute Google search, you will find this information of what to do, what not to do, how to handle it.”

A red flag for Bos was a comment Bass made in the April 27 interview with Barham and the alleged victim’s parents. Bass had been responding to parents’ complaints that the school had been too tough in its penalties, particularly on the boys. He said he’d been as equitable and as reasonable as he could be.

“The easy road would have been, the moment it came up, just turn it over and said ‘Officer Barham, you investigate it. And then when you’re done, you give me your report and if I got to do school-level stuff, I’ll do it at that time” he said. “But that seemed a little heavy handed.”

Bass said he was sharing what he learned with Barham. But the in-school investigation hadn’t turned up evidence that the images had been widely circulated. Sexting incidents, he thought, should be turned over to law enforcement only when images had been distributed beyond the consenting parties.

“We haven’t uncovered any of that,” Bass said. 

(Bass believed that interpretation of the law came from Hodgson; Hodgson denied that.) 

“We did our very best to make sure we didn’t have a larger problem. We don’t think we have one currently. Law enforcement has to do their follow-up and due diligence, and we don’t get a choice just with the route it got reported to us,” Bass told the alleged victim’s parents and Barham later in the meeting.

He gestured toward Barham. “He got the initial report, too.”

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Shannon Najmabadi

Shannon Najmabadi has covered rural affairs and the rural economy for The Colorado Sun since 2021. She was previously a reporter at The Texas Tribune. Email: shannon@coloradosun.com...