The high school principal at the center of a controversial child pornography case is expected to testify in a Morgan County district court for the first time Friday on how his investigation into a tip about student sexting has left him facing 12 years in prison.
Bradley Bass, 32, was charged over the summer with multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a child. If convicted, he would be required to register as a sex offender — a penalty that would stop him from continuing his career at the eastern Colorado high school he attended and keep him from his young children.
The unusual case has divided the 5,300-person community of Brush, and has been cited as a rare example of how decades-old child pornography laws can ensnare administrators unaware that possessing explicit images of children is sexual exploitation under the law, no matter the person’s intent.
In Bass’ case, the alleged victim — the girl pictured in the photos — has with her parents begged police and prosecutors to drop charges against the principal, adding to the novel circumstances around the charges, legal experts say.
His supporters have vocally advocated for Bass, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Free Bass” slogans and a Bible verse, printing commentaries in the local paper, and packing rows of seats at each courthouse hearing.
“I know that it’s been incredibly incredibly hard on Tressa,” Bass said about his high school sweetheart and wife. “Our kids are not old enough to understand. But they are intuitive creatures, and I’m sure they know anxiety is high in our house.”
☀ OUR RECOMMENDATIONS
Here’s what you need to know about the case.
The case began when Bass and Brush School District’s director of secondary education, Scott Hodgson, investigated a tip about students sharing explicit images in April. They found photos on the phones of a few students, saved in the disappearing photo application Snapchat. Worried the boys could delete the photos by logging into their Snapchat accounts remotely, Bass used his work cellphone to take photos of the students’ phones. They were then transferred to a folder on the school’s server that few people had access to. Other photos related to student discipline, like images of confiscated vape pens and marijuana, were stored on the same server, but in a less secure location.
To me, that’s been my biggest heartbreak in all of this is to see people I care more about than anything in the world suffer for my actions, which I thought were in good faith and I thought I was trying to do the right thing. But to see that turn around and have a major impact on my family has been pretty much the worst.
— Bradley Bass
After police learned the administrators had taken photos of the boys’ phones, they arrested them.
Hodgson’s case has since been thrown out by 13th Judicial District Judge Charles Hobbs, who is also hearing Bass’ case.
Because Hodgson’s case was dismissed, the judge is now deciding whether the case against Bass should be tossed for the same reason: that the educators have immunity under the Colorado Safe Schools Act because they were acting in good faith and in compliance with district policies.
If the judge says the immunity shouldn’t apply to Bass, the case would move forward — potentially to a trial.
Since the case began, Brush Police Chief Derek Bos has been the face of the case, and has authored news releases calling the administrators’ actions “atrocities.” He said Wednesday the police department has supported the district attorney’s offered plea deal, which would charge Bass with the misdemeanor of obstructing justice. Bos has been hired as Eagle’s police chief. Friday is his last day working in Brush.
Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney Travis Sides has said it’s up to the legislature to change the language of the child pornography statute. He does not remember the district attorney’s office prosecuting another school administrator in a juvenile sexting case in his 12 years there.
Sides spoke with Bass’ supporters outside the courthouse as he walked to his car one afternoon not long after the case began.
“It sounds cheesy, but we just want to know the truth,” he said, according to a video recording of the exchange.
What are the key questions in the case?
Much of the case turns on what the school administrators told police about their investigation into the sexting tip, and why School Resource Officer Jared Barham didn’t intervene.
Barham is a sworn police officer in Brush and in January 2022 began acting as a liaison between the school and police department. He received the same tip about sexting that the school administrators did but did not tell other officers or start interviewing students for several weeks. During that time, Barham was working night shifts covering for a city police officer out on paternity leave. He intended to follow up on the sexting case when he returned to the district in late April, according to testimony at the hearing.
Cellphone records show Barham tried to call Bass after the tip was submitted; Bass missed a call near 10 p.m. on April 14 and the men spoke the evening of April 19. Police have pointed to the calls as proof Bass was withholding information because he didn’t call back between April 15 and 19 — a long Easter weekend — or disclose that administrators had taken photos of the boys’ phones. Bass said he would have shared that information if asked.
More information about the case came out in a Nov. 21 hearing, in which Brush School District Superintendent Bill Wilson and Barham gave testimony. The hearing will resume today.
Here are key moments from the Nov. 21 hearing on the case:
School Resource Officer Jared Barham didn’t tell police department about the tip.
A confidential tip submitted through Safe2Tell went to Barham via fax and was sent to the police dispatch line, he said during the hearing. Barham was the only officer on duty at the time and he didn’t share the information with other officers, he said. Bos, the police chief, learned about the tip 13 days after it was received, when Barham returned to working in the school.
School resource officer Jared Barham did not take notes of key phone calls.
Barham spoke to the parent who submitted the sexting tip and called Bass before he resumed his normal job at the school. But he didn’t take notes during the calls or record when they happened. On the stand and in an interview with The Colorado Sun, Barham couldn’t recall key portions of the April 19 conversation with Bass, in particular, which police have cited as an example of the administrator’s failure to communicate about the case.
Barham has said he does not remember what information Bass provided during that phone conversation, and does not remember if they set an expectation that additional information would be provided.
Asked in court why he didn’t take notes or document the interaction, Barham initially said he didn’t know.
Barham’s initial report on the case was written in late April.
School resource officer Jared Barham agreed Bradley Bass provided him with the information he’d asked for.
Police have said school administrators kept information about the investigation from them. But when questioned by Bass’ attorney, Barham agreed that the administrator had provided him with the information he’d asked for. That included providing a written write-up of the school’s investigation soon after Barham requested it.
At another point, Bass’ lawyer asked Barham if Bass had gotten in the way of the investigation.
Superintendent Bill Wilson says administrators did not receive training on how to handle sexting cases.
Wilson said Bass had not received training on how to investigate sexting cases. The district is still working on drafting a sexting policy and expects there will be staff training on the topic in January.
In the meantime, staff have been instructed to not act on a sexting case until they’ve spoken to Wilson or legal counsel, he said.
Bass acted in accordance with all school policies at the time of the April sexting case, Wilson said.
Superintendent Bill Wilson said police did not tell school officials to stop investigating the tip.
Wilson said he checked in with Hodgson the morning after the tip came in to make sure the district was following up on it. He felt the matter was urgent, according to the hearing testimony.
“The nature of sexting and those types of pictures and electronic transmission — every second matters to get those contained, deleted,” he said.
Wilson said he did not hear from police until April 19, when his calendar shows he had a 2:30 p.m. meeting with Bos, the police chief.
Bos did not mention the Safe2Tell tip or the sexting investigation. (He previously told The Colorado Sun he did not learn about the tip until late April.)
“Did law enforcement ever contact you and tell you ‘Hey, maybe you guys shouldn’t investigate this Safe2Tell — we’ll take this one?’” Bass’ lawyer asked at the hearing.
“No,” Wilson said.
Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Wiard accused administrators of not following school policies.
Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Wiard argued a few school policies differed from how school officials described them.
First, she pointed to a 2010 agreement outlining how and when students could use electronics at school.
“Policy on Sexting,” the document said on one page. “School personnel are required to report to law enforcement or child protective services whenever there is reason to believe that any student or other person is involved with child exploitation or child pornography.”
Wilson, the superintendent, said the document was a student policy — not guidance for administrators — and that he didn’t believe it was in effect at any point since he began working at the district. None of the parties involved — Bos, Barham, Wilson, Hodgson and Bass — were in their current positions in 2010, the year the agreement was dated.
Wiard also argued that Hodgson and Bass had improperly searched students’ cellphones to get the explicit images in question. She pointed to a change in the district’s handbook which, starting this school year, says that students’ effects and electronic devices can be searched by school personnel. The policy did not previously specify “electronic devices.”
Wilson said the change was just to make the previous search policy more explicit. He and Barham were also aware administrators had searched students’ phones in the past.
“Was there ever any direction given to Mr. Bass specifically saying ‘you are not allowed to search cellphones per policy?’” Bass’ lawyer asked Wilson during the hearing.
“No,” Wilson said.
“To the contrary, he was trained and expected to search cellphones as part of his job as assistant director if necessary?”
“I think that’s fair, yeah.”
In the sexting case, the students agreed to show administrators their phones, according to police records. School administrators generally have a lower bar to search students’ possessions than police do.
Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Wiard asked why the superintendent had expressed concern about the administrators’ careers early on.
Administrators first learned police were scrutinizing their handling of the sexting case on May 11, when Brush police sergeant David Hosier came to the school campus with a search warrant. He spoke to Hodgson and Bass. Wilson came in during the conversation, according to body camera footage of the exchange.
He told Hosier he was worried about the administrators’ careers and didn’t want them to be charged — a comment Wiard suggested showed culpability.
“Did you think Mr. Bass was breaking the law?” she asked Wilson during the hearing.
“No,” he said.
“So if that’s true, then why did you tell Detective Hosier you were concerned about careers?” she asked.
Wilson said his remark was based on fear that the administrators would be “guilty until proven innocent” in the court of public opinion once the charges came out. He’d also just come from the police station where Bos had shown him a draft of an “inflammatory” news release he intended to put out, Wilson said.
“I’m obviously concerned. I’ve been concerned about their careers. We’re talking about two guys that do nothing but uphold the best interests of kids and have done so and demonstrated that for years,” he said.
“Ma’am, I guess I look at it this way,” Wilson added later. “If our administrators, whether it’s in Brush or anywhere, are expected to know to run from this, why were law enforcement not running to it and saying ‘get out of the way, don’t touch this?’”