Crime

Ex-Los Banos student says teacher promised ‘good grades’ for sex, according to court records

Dusty Norris, 37, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to having sex with two teenage students about a decade ago. He has been charged with sexual penetration and oral copulation with two minors from 2004 to 2007.
Dusty Norris, 37, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to having sex with two teenage students about a decade ago. He has been charged with sexual penetration and oral copulation with two minors from 2004 to 2007. Merced County Sheriff’s Office

A former Los Banos High School teacher-turned-police officer promised a student “good grades in exchange for sexual acts” and threatened to kill the girl and her family if she told anyone, according to court records obtained Thursday.

Dusty Norris, 37, pleaded not guilty Thursday to having sexual relationships with two teenage students about a decade ago. He has been charged with sexual penetration and oral copulation with two minors from 2004 to 2007.

The allegations stem from Norris’ time as a teacher at Los Banos High School. He was employed by the Merced County Office of Education.

An illegal relationship is claimed to have happened during the 2006-07 school year. One of the former students, who was 17 at the time, claims to have been sexually involved with two teachers at the same time: Norris and English teacher Gary Bettencourt, according to Merced Superior Court records.

Bettencourt was arrested last year and charged with having sexual relationships with students. He also has pleaded not guilty.

The former student plans to sue the Los Banos Unified School District, according to her attorney Robert Allard.

Ed Vasquez, a spokesman for Allard’s law firm, said attorneys expect to file the lawsuit next week.

“The fact that this high school allowed two pedophile teachers to freely, openly and brazenly molest multiple students – over a number of years – at the same time – with at least one common student – is beyond alarming,” Allard said in a prepared statement. “There is no doubt in my mind that these molestations would have been prevented if the administration was paying even a little attention to what these predators were doing while on school property during regular school hours.”

In court documents filed this week ahead of the expected lawsuit, that former student says both men “engaged in sexualized conduct with me, including oral copulation.” She says “sexual activity” took place numerous times on the Los Banos High School campus.

“Dusty Norris promised me good grades in exchange for sexual acts,” the woman said in the court declaration. “He told me that, if I told anyone about our relationship or the sexual acts, he would kill me and my family. I took him seriously and told no one.”

According to the document, she says Bettencourt “endeared himself” to her before their relationship became inappropriate. “When I was in high school, I thought that my relationship with Gary Bettencourt was a loving one as opposed to a harmful one.”

The allegations that Norris promised the girl good grades in exchange for sex and then made death threats are not contained in the criminal reports filed by investigators with the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

Vasquez said he was not sure why those claims were not noted in the criminal reports. “That’s probably a question for the District Attorney’s Office,” Vasquez told the Sun-Star.

Katie Gates, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said she was not aware of the grades-for-sex claims until Thursday. She said the criminal investigation did note allegations that Norris threatened one of the victims but said those claims were “not as specific” as they were described in the civil court documents.

The woman, now 26, said once the relationships ended, she “numbed” herself and put the sexual acts “in the back of my mind and never thought about them.”

She said it was only in recent months that she “realized that I had been abused and that I had been harmed by the sexual relationships with my teachers as a minor,” the declaration says.

Norris’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Chris Loethen, said he could not comment on the new allegations raised in the civil court documents, saying he was still reviewing records in the case.

Norris entered his not guilty plea Thursday before Judge John D. Kirihara. Loethen asked the judge to lower Norris’ bail from $200,000 to $75,000. Loethen noted a similar case in 2012 in which a defendant’s bail was $75,000.

Loethen said the charges against Norris are about a decade old and said there was no evidence of any wrongdoing during the intervening years and no evidence of harassing those who claim to have been victims. However, the judge denied the request and left the bail at $200,000.

He is due back in court June 6. Bettencourt returns to court June 22.

Anyone with information about these cases is asked to contact Supervising Investigator Wayne Hutton at 209-385-7383.

Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482

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