The high school principal facing 12 years in prison after he investigated a tip that students were sexting testified in a Morgan County district court Friday about the unusual case that has split the Eastern Colorado community of Brush.
Bradley Bass, 32, said he’d followed his supervisors’ instructions and acted in accordance with school policies when he looked into a Safe2Tell tip about students sharing explicit images in April. Fearing the teens could log onto the Snapchat app they used to share the photos and delete them, Bass took photos of the images as evidence and uploaded them to a secure folder on the school server.
Police have accused Bass of interfering with their investigation into the sexting case, though School Resource Officer Jared Barham got the same tip Bass did and did not follow up for several weeks. Bass said on the stand that he believed he’d fully cooperated with Barham and would have provided any information police asked for.
He’s been charged with four counts of sexual exploitation of a child. Under state law, possessing explicit images of a minor is akin to child pornography, no matter the person’s intent.
Bass’ lawyers have asked 13th Judicial District Judge Charles Hobbs to dismiss the case, arguing the administrator should be immune from prosecution because he acted in good faith and in accordance with district policies. The judge has asked lawyers to file written briefs by Dec. 16 and will issue his ruling at some point after that.
Read our recap of the previous hearing in the case here.
Key moments from the Dec. 9 hearing:
The alleged victim’s father said he had no concerns about how Bradley Bass handled the case.
The girl depicted in the images — the alleged victim in the case — and her parents have vocally supported Bass and opposed the prosecution. The girl’s father took the stand Friday morning and said he felt Bass handled the situation as best as he could and was professional and transparent.
The father said Bass did not show the parents or the girl the explicit photos in question. He instead had the girl write down the names of people she’d sent photos to, out of sight of her parents.
Bradley Bass told police and the alleged victim’s father that the sexually explicit images had been preserved.
The girl’s father said Bass told him that evidence in the case had been preserved, specifically that photos had been moved from his cellphone to a server.
Bass, who took the stand later Friday morning, also recounted telling School Resource Officer Jared Barham in an April 19 phone call that he had documented the case and saved evidence of which student had what images.
Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Wiard repeatedly asked whether Bass specifically told Barham he had nude images of a female student on his work cellphone and on the server. Bass said he believed he’d been transparent with Barham and answered any questions he had. Barham knew it was a sexting case — a parent who separately emailed Barham about the incident referred to it as child pornography — and Bass said in a report requested by Barham that all the photos were “on file” with school administration.
In addition, the two men had worked together before and Bass said Barham knew how the school principal typically documented cases: By taking photos of drug paraphernalia, for example, and then uploading it to the school server. Disciplinary incidents were kept there and tracked as the school must provide a report on student discipline to the state at the end of the year, Bass said.
Wiard, however, suggested Bass was not specific enough in his communication.
“So Mr. Bass, I just want to be really clear. Did you specifically tell Officer Barham: ‘I have seven photos or four photos of an individual — naked photos — that are sitting right now on my cellphone and on the server’? Did you use those exact words?”
“No. But that’s a pretty prescriptive sentence, ma’am,” he answered.
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Bradley Bass did not delete the images from his work cellphone after transferring them to the school server.
In perhaps the most damning testimony of the morning, Bass said he thought the photos were deleted from his work cellphone after they were transferred to a confidential school folder. But he learned the photos had not been removed about a month later, when Brush police Sgt. David Hosier came to the school on May 11 and told school administrators — for the first time — their handling of the investigation was under scrutiny.
Bass anticipated he would be asked about the photos and checked to make sure they were still in the folder on the school server. He double-checked his phone and discovered they were still there. Bass didn’t delete them and told police they were there. He gave both his work and personal cellphone, with his passwords, to law enforcement that day.
“I pride myself on being thorough so quite frankly I was disgusted,” Bass said, when asked about the photos on his work cellphone on the stand. “To be quite frank, I don’t access photos on my work phone often or ever. It’s mostly text messages between kids, parking violations and the occasional sporting event that I take (pictures) on the Facebook app and post.”
He said “absolutely” nobody else had access to his work cellphone during this time and agreed the images never came “into contact” with his personal cellphone. A forensic analysis requested by police shows no information related to the case was found on Bass’ personal cellphone or computer. The images on the school server were not accessed after Bass placed them there.
Hosier, whom Wiard called to testify, said Bass was cooperative and that law enforcement did not ask him to share the images prior to Hosier presenting a search warrant on May 11, as far as he was aware.
“He was completely cooperative with you during that interaction on May 11, correct?” Bass’ lawyer Michael Faye asked Hosier.
“He even directed you to a hard drive that you didn’t recognize as a hard drive.”
“He gave you the laptop, the Chromebook, the computer in his office.”
“Yeah, I already had the laptop. But he did provide the Chromebook.”
“And when you talked to him, he voluntarily spoke. Correct?”
“You had some questions?”
“And he answered all of your questions, correct?”
“He told you that the images were captured on his work cell phone.”
“He told you essentially, why he felt the need to capture these and to document these, correct?”
School officials had the impression that police prefer them to lead on investigations.
An in-house substitute teacher who testified Friday, Debbie Daughenbaugh, recalled a conversation in which Barham, the school resource officer, said it was easier for school officials to search students’ cars, backpacks and cellphones because law enforcement would need warrants.
Bass said Barham was not the only officer to express such a sentiment, and that he left the impression that he preferred it when school employees “spearheaded” investigations of student conduct.
Bass also said it was fairly typical for school employees to start looking into a potential policy infraction or illegal activity and for Barham to catch up on it when he returned to school, sometimes a day or more later.
Bradley Bass asked the boys to delete the sexually explicit images from their phones.
Bass said he told each student who had explicit images to delete the photos from their phones in his presence not long after they were discovered. He said he believed it was the best way to ensure the images didn’t spread further.
Assistant District Attorney Wiard repeatedly questioned Bass about what he knew about an iCloud — a remote storage option for Apple users — and suggested he did a shoddy job deleting photos because he couldn’t be sure they were removed from possible cloud storage accounts.
Bass, who said he didn’t personally use iPhones, said “to the very best of my abilities, those (photos) were deleted from the students’ possession.”
Police did not take the boys’ phones to make sure images were erased until late July and August.
Sgt. Hosier, who investigated Bass and Director of Secondary Schools Scott Hodgson, said that in some instances, records related to deleted messages could be recovered from Snapchat.
There was confusion about whether or not School Resource Officer Jared Barham had been contacted.
The morning after the Safe2Tell tip was submitted, Hodgson, who is Bass’ supervisor, asked if Bass could help follow up on the tip. Bass had other student discipline issues he’d been dealing with, and by the time he was approached about the Safe2Tell, he was told police dispatch had assigned Barham, the school resource officer, to the case. Barham had received the same tip and, because he was working night shifts covering for a city police officer, was on duty at the time it came in around midnight.
Bass said he was under the impression that Barham had already been contacted. But Hodgson previously testified he thought Bass reached out to the school resource officer.
Cellphone records don’t show a call from Bass to Barham on April 14. However, calls made from Bass’ office line have not been reviewed; just communications on his work cellphone. Bass estimates he called two dozen people on April 14, largely parents of students involved in the sexting case, on his office line. Those calls have not been reflected in the phone records presented in court.