Trial begins for ex-Fruitland principal accused of sexually abusing school employee

The jury trial for former Fruitland High School principal Mike Fitch, who faces three misdemeanor charges for accusations of sexually abusing a school employee, began Tuesday in Canyon County.

Magistrate Judge Matthew Bever is presiding over the trial, which was moved to a Canyon County courtroom even though the charges originated in Payette County, per a judge’s order for a change of venue. Jury selection began Tuesday and evidence will be presented Wednesday.

Fitch was charged on Feb. 22 with three sex-related misdemeanors by the Payette County prosecutor: two counts of sexual battery and one charge of patronizing a prostitute. Fitch resigned as principal in April.

The Payette County prosecutor charged Fitch with sexual battery due to an incident in which he allegedly took the woman’s hand and placed it on his groin, and another incident in which he allegedly touched the woman in a sexual way without her consent while at school, according to the affidavit. The alleged incidents occurred on school property.

The charge of patronizing a prostitute stems from Fitch allegedly offering to pay the same woman for sex after she declined to have a relationship with him, according to court records. Patronizing a prostitute, by state statute, is when someone “pays or offers or agrees to pay another person a fee for the purpose of engaging in an act of sexual conduct or sexual contact.”

Fitch was also the longtime head boys basketball coach at Fruitland High School.

The potential jurors were asked a variety of questions about their exposure to the information in the case. Among other things, Payette County Prosecutor Ross Pittman questioned them about how they defined “consent” and what their thoughts on the #MeToo movement were.

Testimony in the case could last through Friday. If convicted, Fitch could face up to a year in jail on each charge.

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Reporter Ruth Brown covers the criminal justice and correctional systems in Idaho. She focuses on breaking news, public safety and social justice. Prior to coming to the Idaho Statesman, she was a reporter at the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Bakersfield Californian and the Idaho Falls Post Register.