West Ada principal, accused in child abuse case, placed on unpaid leave

Child sexual abuse statistics in the United States

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
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One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Star Middle School Principal Tony Nelson, charged with two felonies in a child abuse case earlier this month, is now on unpaid leave from the West Ada School District.

Nelson, who makes $95,875 a year, was on paid leave until last week, when the district became aware of a court order prohibiting him from being in the presence of minors.

“Because this means that he cannot perform his work duties, there is an Idaho statute that he be placed on leave without pay,” district spokesman Eric Exline told the Statesman. If he is found not guilty of the charges, he will receive the pay that is withheld.

Nelson was booked into the Canyon County jail May 9 on two felony charges of injury to a child. He posted $100,000 bond and was released from the jail.

The 50-year-old school administrator and his wife, Pamela Nelson, 49, are accused of abusing two children in their care during a three-year period, from January 2016 to January 2019, court records show. She is also out of jail on a $100,000 bond.

Tony Nelson was scheduled to be arraigned in 3rd District Court on Tuesday. His attorney, Michael Bartlett, told a judge that he is new to the case and had not seen the indictment. The judge allowed him to review the indictment outside the courtroom.

After that, Bartlett asked the judge to reschedule the hearing. It is now set for 1:30 p.m. July 1.

The Nelsons have nine children — seven biological children and two adopted — according to Exline. There have been no allegations of misconduct against Nelson at the school district in the past two decades.

“There has never been any disciplinary concern or issue raised about him, from 1998 to date,” Exline said. “He’s popular with the parents, at least the ones I’ve spoken to.”

Tony Nelson is accused of causing “unjustifiable physical pain and/or mental suffering” and threatening the health of two children by allowing food to be withheld and causing them to become malnourished, according to the indictment. The second count also alleges that he allowed the older child to be locked in a room for long periods of time and to be struck by Pamela Nelson.

The indictment does not say where the alleged crimes occurred, other than in Canyon County.

Exline told the Statesman earlier this month that district officials were aware that county detectives were investigating a “domestic issue that occurred at the Nelson home.”

“We were not aware that the investigation had led to charges being filed until the day Mr. Nelson turned himself in,” Exline said.

Nelson has been with the West Ada School District for about 27 years, previously serving as Eagle Middle School principal for 11 years, according to the district. He’s been principal at Star Middle School since April 2018, and he opened the school last fall.

Star Middle School, which is about 2 miles northeast of downtown Star, has 590 students. Vice Principal Tyler Pence is now serving as acting principal.

Pamela Nelson was charged with three counts of felony injury to a child. She’s accused of withholding food from the children, locking one child in a room for long periods of time, and hitting one with a spoon in the buttocks so hard that it left bruises. The children are now 10 and 14 years old.

She is scheduled to be arraigned in 3rd District Court at 8:30 a.m. June 10.

Each count of felony injury to a child carries penalties of one to 10 years in prison and up to $50,000 fine.