A Los Banos police officer was arrested Wednesday morning on allegations of sex offenses involving students he knew in the mid-2000s when he was a teacher in the Los Banos Unified School District, authorities confirmed to the Sun-Star.
Dusty E. Norris, 37, was booked into Merced County Jail on suspicion of felony charges of sexual penetration with a foreign object with a victim under the age of 18 and oral copulation with a minor, as well as a misdemeanor allegation of failing to report child abuse, according to county jail booking records.
He remained in custody Wednesday afternoon with bail set at $250,000, according to booking records.
Norris was placed on administrative leave from the department on Jan. 9 during the course of the investigation, authorities said.
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The allegations stem from Norris’ time as a high school vocational instructor between 2004 and 2007, before he became a police officer, according to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.
The alleged victims were two girls who were in his classes, prosecutors said.
“At this point, there is no evidence indicating that he (Norris) did anything like what’s been alleged in this case during his time as a police officer,” Harold Nutt, chief deputy district attorney, told the Sun-Star.
The allegations surfaced during the investigation into Gary Bettencourt, a Los Banos teacher accused of having sex with high school students, authorities said.
Bettencourt was placed on administrative leave by the school district in September and arrested in February. He has pleaded not guilty to 13 felonies, including unlawful sexual intercourse, oral copulation with a minor and lewd acts upon a child.
Nutt said the cases against Norris and Bettencourt “are not related.” However, at least one girl is believed to have been victimized by both Norris and Bettencourt, Nutt confirmed.
“The allegations came to light during that (Bettencourt) investigation, but the cases are not connected,” he said. “There’s no evidence they (Norris and Bettencourt) were aware of each other’s activities – they were not working together or anything like that.”
“This is a troubling testament to the public high schools (in Los Banos),” said Robert Allard, an attorney who identified himself as representing the two accusers. “They need to ensure that these students are protected from pedophiles.”
Allard said the accusers of Norris and Bettencourt likely will file a lawsuit against Los Banos Unified alleging that it failed to sufficiently supervise the two men.
Paul Enos, the district’s assistant superintendent for secondary education, declined to comment Wednesday, saying instead that the district was preparing to release a statement. As of press time, no such statement had been received.
Norris became a full-time officer in Los Banos in 2008, according to a news release from the District Attorney’s Office.
He served as a school resource officer in Los Banos for at least part of his law enforcement career, according to Sun-Star archives.
“When the allegations first came to light, the Los Banos Police Department placed Norris on administrative leave and asked the Merced County District Attorney’s Office to conduct the investigation,” authorities said in the news release. “During a lengthy investigation, DA investigators interviewed numerous witnesses, served search warrants and collected evidence, all of which substantiated the allegations.”
Allard said attorneys for the victims had been wondering why it was taking so long to arrest Norris.
Last week, he said, one of the accusers was disturbed to see Norris walk into a convenience store where she works.
Prosecutors had not filed any formal charges against Norris as of Wednesday afternoon. Nutt said those charges would be filed in court before the end of the week.
The arrests of Norris and Bettencourt are the latest cases of authority figures in Los Banos being charged with inappropriate conduct involving children.
The Rev. Robert Gamel, the former head of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Los Banos, pleaded guilty in March to possession of child pornography. He is scheduled for sentencing next week.
“It is never a good thing for law enforcement to have to investigate one of its own,” Nutt said in a prepared statement. “We like to believe that police officers are above reproach and we are certain that the overwhelming majority are. However, occasionally it happens that one may engage in criminal behavior.
“Children should be able to learn in a safe and non-threatening environment,” Nutt continued. “For that reason, we will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who violate the trust placed upon them by society.”
Anyone with information about the case can contact Supervising Investigator Wayne Hutton at 209-385-7383, ext. 4239.