The victim of Craig Branstetter’s alleged child sex crimes told police her former math teacher sent her nude photos and fostered their relationship through social media, according to police reports.
Branstetter pleaded not guilty Friday to three felony counts of unlawful sex with a minor, and two misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting and sending harmful matter to a minor.
The victim told police in a video-recorded interview on Jan. 19 that Branstetter consistently pursued a sexual relationship with her through social media messages, physical contact during lunch and after school, and giving her credit for missed school assignments.
Branstetter, a 43-year-old Chowchilla resident, was arrested later that day and refused to answer questions by investigators, invoking his Fifth Amendment right, according to the reports.
Police also interviewed a friend of the victim along with other students and a teacher. Many of them noticed an unusual relationship between Branstetter and the victim, while others felt the relationship was normal.
The victim told police during the interview that she has known Branstetter for two years, but their relationship started when they exchanged social media usernames at the start of the school year, the reports state.
She said Branstetter told her he would help fill out her college applications, according to reports.
The victim said she got closer to Branstetter as she would go to his classroom during lunch to work on pre-calculus math problems, reports state.
Branstetter messaged her multiple times asking her to meet him in Chowchilla, where he lives. But she declined, telling him she didn’t have a ride.
Over the course of August, Branstetter added her on Snapchat, a temporary photo and video sharing app, according to reports. She said she felt comfortable having someone to talk with about problems and issues in her life.
The victim also said she felt uncomfortable when Branstetter would tell her he “liked her eyes” and compliment her on her looks and physique. At one point, she stopped wearing yoga pants to school after a lewd comment by the teacher, she said.
The victim told police she was “stunned” one day in September when Branstetter kissed her on the lips as she was retrieving a notebook she had forgotten in his classroom after school.
According to reports, Branstetter started “being closer to her” after that incident and would hug her every day after class.
Branstetter continued to message her to meet up, but she declined, according to reports.
“The (victim) did not mention this to anybody because she did not want to hurt him because she knows he is a teacher,” the reports state.
The victim told police she sent after-workout photos of herself in October to Branstetter, who replied with nude photos of himself through Snapchat. Branstetter also told her in the messages that he wanted to have sex with her, she said.
October was also the month in which Branstetter had sex with the victim once in Branstetter’s truck off a canal bank near Dos Palos, and twice during a private hiking trip in Mariposa, she told police.
The victim said the relationship stopped after the hiking trip because her mother and brother discovered some inappropriate messages, and they informed the high school, which started an investigation.
The October investigation resulted in Branstetter being placed on paid administrative leave. But he returned to the school after that investigation’s conclusion.
According to reports, Dos Palos Oro Loma Joint Unified School District Superintendent Bill Spalding told police that there wasn’t enough evidence to continue the investigation.
Spaldin on Saturday told the Enterprise he couldn’t comment on the details of that investigation, citing personnel confidentiality.
But he said the district didn’t have some evidence during the initial investigation that eventually led to criminal charges in January.
“We take these things seriously,” Spalding said. “We had professionals conduct the investigation on our behalf. It was a full and thorough investigation.”
Dos Palos Police Chief Barry Mann said the police department wasn’t part of the initial investigation.
But after Mann received a report on Jan. 17 that Branstetter had sent the victim a message stating he wanted to have a “threesome” with her, Mann opened an investigation.
When Branstetter came back to school after the school probe, the victim said he tried to add her back on Snapchat multiple times. She connected with him for a week on Snapchat, during which she said Branstetter asked the victim to “meet him,” which she took to mean having sex.
The victim also told police Branstetter would pass sticky notes to her during class containing apologies, the last one received two or three days before the police interview.
Neither Branstetter nor his attorney, Jeff Hammerschmidt, could be reached for comment Friday or Saturday after the Enterprise obtained the police reports.
However, after Branstetter’s Friday arraignment, Hammerschmidt told reporters that the defense and prosecution were awaiting more evidence, including body camera footage of the victim’s interview.
“Right now, all that we have is the police reports at this early stage,” Hammerschmidt said.
Branstetter’s bail was reset to $95,000, of which Hammerschmidt said Branstetter had already posted $25,000. Branstetter planned to post the remainder Friday.
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562