Jury trial moved back to September for former counselor accused of sexual conduct with student

Published 6:18 pm Monday, February 19, 2024

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The jury trial for the former Albert Lea High School counselor accused of criminal sexual conduct with a student has been moved back to September, according to online court records.

The trial for Richard John Polley, 34, had been slated to start in January. He faces one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, including penetration, of a student from a prohibited occupational relationship.

This is at least the third time for the trial to get moved back after charges were first filed in January 2022. Notice of the new date was filed on Friday.

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Court documents allege the student initially went to Polley as a counselor at school to talk if something was bothering her or to make changes to her schedule. In December 2021 they became friends and started talking on Snapchat, and the sexual activity reportedly happened at Polley’s house in January 2022.

After allegations emerged, the Albert Lea school board voted to terminate Polley from his position after an internal investigation. The school investigation found evidence to support the allegations and also found that Polley had falsified parts of his district job application and that he had actually been asked to resign from the South Washington County Schools district to avoid termination.

He reportedly signed a resignation agreement and release of all claims, though the investigation did not release the nature of the allegations.

Albert Lea police issued a search warrant on Polley’s former district and found files that showed reported text messages between Polley and female students at Woodbury High School, as well as interviews with the students and school staff.

Freeborn County District Court Judge Christy Hormann in November ruled allegations of misconduct from his time there would not be able to be introduced at the trial in this case as evidence of prior bad acts, noting that while text messages may be inappropriate for school staff to have with a student, they were not sexual in nature, she said.

In an order she wrote it was never alleged that Polley invited students to his home while a teacher at Woodbury High School, and there was no allegation that he had sexual intercourse with any of the students from the Woodbury High School.

“There are some similarities between the prior acts and the current acts, but those similarities are not strong enough to demonstrate a common scheme or plan,” Hormann wrote. “Had Defendant invited some of those students over to his house or engaged in sexually charged discussions with them, this may be a different analysis.”

A pre-trial hearing is slated for Aug. 30 with the trial now slated for Sept. 16.

The prosecutor previously estimated the trial could last a week and a half because of the number of witnesses.