On August 18th, 2009, Michael Pratt, the former LDS seminary principal at Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah, appeared in court and got the conditions of his bail changed so that he can bond out and pay back those who paid for his cash bail earlier. Media stories published by the Provo Daily Herald, the Deseret News, and KSL Channel 5.
Pratt's lawyer sought to increase the bail amount from $20,000 cash-only to $30,000, but make it bondable. This way, Pratt could pay $3,000 cash and get the rest of the money refunded, so he can pay people back. The judge agreed. In addition, one of Pratt's attorneys, Dusty Kawai, told the judge they still need to see cell-phone records and text messages and asked for a three-week continuance. In response, prosecutor Julia Thomas said her office is still waiting for cell-phone companies to comply with subpoenas for the information, but she said she expects to have the records by September (perhaps they are still on hold waiting to talk to customer service in India, as one wag commented on KSL). At that point, she said she will ask for a preliminary hearing. A tentative date for that hearing has now been set for September 8th. KSL news video embedded below:
To briefly recap the case, thirty-seven year old Michael Pratt, who is married, is charged with 10 first-degree felony counts of forcible sodomy, seven counts of object rape and two counts of rape, and two second-degree felony counts of forcible sex abuse. The charges stem from the fact that Pratt began checking out an unnamed female student from school on his own authority and took her to numerous places around Utah Valley, where they had "consensual" sex (in this case, meaning strictly that no physical coercion was employed). Further details posted in this earlier KSL story. As seminary principal, Pratt used LDS doctrine to psychologically manipulate this girl and convince her that she should become his eternal partner. When the case became public, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints promptly fired him from his position as seminary principal.
I also recommend reading this July 26th Deseret News interview with the victim for a more detailed perspective as to how this evolved.
But what's particularly disturbing are the expressions of support from some students. Many of these actions and statements go beyond mere support and imply outright cult-like worship of this man. Here are some examples:
-- Students lined Pratt's bench and leapt to follow him from the courtroom after his hearing. One girl held her hand up in an "I love you" sign as Pratt flashed her a thumbs up while walking into the elevator.
-- Blake Ellis, who graduated this year from Lone Peak, said he wanted to support Pratt, even if he is guilty. Ellis said Pratt was there for students when they needed him, and his students will do the same in return. "We love him, and we always will... . He was always there for us, so we'll be there for him", said Ellis.
-- Linnea Torriente, who graduated this year, described Pratt as an energetic seminary principal who greeted his students with high fives and praises. He was always smiling and made people feel good about themselves, she said. Although she was disappointed to hear the allegations of sexual misconduct, Torriente said everyone makes mistakes. "I was really close to him," she said. "He was a good friend."
-- Senior Cameron Anderson called Pratt a friend. Anderson said Pratt is a good man, and people should not drop their friends just because a mistake was made. "We just wanted to come and show our support for him," he said.
Yet the media seems reluctant to report that not all the students were taken in by Michael Pratt's "hip-hip-hooray, are we happy today" shtick. Comments posted to the various media stories indicate that some were turned off. In today's Deseret News story, someone wrote "I spoke to a student at Lone Peak. She said she never liked this guy--never got why everybody was so in to him. She thought his stories were over the top--didn't think they were exactly true. She thought he was creepy in how he tried to be everybody's fav. Students need to remember that if a teacher acts as though he is still a kid, and wants to be "in" with the kids--he might just have issues."
There is a difference between expressing private support for a person in legal trouble versus coming out with a bunch of treacly, saccharine statements of worship. It could very well be that Pratt might be innocent. But these students ought to retain an open mind about the case. If Pratt is so innocent, why hasn't he publicly proclaimed his innocence? Why did he issue a cryptic, ambiguous statement merely saying "the truth will come out"? That's not exactly a ringing declaration of innocence.
This is why we punish crimes against kids more severely than crimes against adults. And the most severe punishment is reserved for those adults who exercise authority over kids. If Pratt proves to be guilty, then he will be the classical example of a sheep in wolves' clothing - and will deserve the strongest possible punishment.