Kentwood High School in Covington. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kentwood High School in Covington. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kentwood High teacher charged with raping a student

JROTC instructor allegedly sexually assaulted 15-year-old girl in portable classroom

A 45-year-old Kentwood High School teacher faces charges of third-degree rape and communications with a minor for immoral purposes after he allegedly sexually assaulted a 15-year-old student.

King County prosecutors filed charges June 13 against Joseph A. Byrd, of Renton, a Junior Reserve Officers Training Program (JROTC) instructor at the Covington school.

Byrd is scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. June 23 in the GA courtroom at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. King County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested and booked Byrd on June 9 into the King County jail. Bail was set at $150,000. He was released on bail June 10, according to jail records.

“Knowing her age, and using his position of authority, the defendant invited (the student) to an empty portable where he sexually assaulted her,” according to charging documents. “He also sent explicit texts to her discussing the assault and hoping that they could have intercourse again.”

The alleged incident occurred on or about April 29, according to court documents. Byrd reportedly asked the student to delete all texts because he would get fired and sent to jail.

The Kent School District suspended Byrd once officials heard about the allegations.

“Situations such as this are never easy and all of us experience various emotions as we respond,” according to a June 9 letter to Kentwood students and parents from the district. “Despite the difficulty of the issue and regardless of the outcome of the investigation, we want you to know that student safety continues to be our number one priority.”

According to charging papers, Kentwood Principal Samantha Ketover on May 4 called 911 to report an allegation of an inappropriate relationship between Marine instructor Byrd and a student. Byrd was one of two JROTC instructors at the school. The student wasn’t a member of the program, but would frequently go by the JROTC classroom and talk to the instructor.

Friends of the student came forward to school administrators with screenshot text messages they received from the girl. Senior Marine instructor Lt. Col. Michael Kelley also came forward the same day to administrators that he was approached by students about a possible relationship between Byrd and the girl.

Byrd reportedly invited the girl to a portable used for storage. Because the portable had been burglarized, the school installed video cameras and an alarm.

The cameras showed Byrd disarmed the alarm the afternoon of April 29 and propped the door open, according to charging documents. When the girl is in sight, Byrd invited her inside the portable. Once she is inside, Byrd closed the door. The two were reportedly inside the portable for about 5 minutes before leaving.

The girl told detectives she would visit Byrd in the classroom and they would talk about “life and stuff.”

On June 9, detectives executed a residential search warrant and arrest warrant at Byrd’s residence. Byrd told a detective he knew why they were there but he said he was not answering any questions.

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