A Winslow man who is a teacher and softball coach at Waldo County schools has been accused of sexually assaulting a female student during school hours.
Michael Gagnon, 46, an automotive technology instructor at Waldo County Technical Center, would allegedly leave his class to go on “test drives” of the vehicles students were working on with the 17-year-old girl, and that’s when the assaults took place, according to a police affidavit by Waldo County Deputy Darrin Moody.
Gagnon also allegedly assaulted the girl, a Belfast High School student, at his home in Winslow and a motel in Bangor, according to police.
Under Maine law, it’s a class C crime for someone employed by a school district who has “instructional, supervisory or disciplinary authority over” a student under 18 to have sexual contact with the student.
Gagnon was arrested Friday on a charge of gross sexual assault and is in custody at the Waldo County Jail in Belfast. Gagnon has been a teacher at the technical center for 15 years and is on administrative leave, according to center director Chris Downing, who would not comment further.
Gagnon is also a softball coach at Mount View High School in Thorndike, where he has also been put on leave, according to Regional School Unit 3 Superintendent Heather Perry.
Perry said in a prepared statement Monday that the Unity-based district was notified of Gagnon’s arrest over the weekend.
“RSU 3 is taking all necessary steps to ensure the safety and well-being of our students as we move forward in our investigations into this matter,” she said. “We would encourage anyone who may think they have additional information that would be helpful to law enforcement to step forward and contact the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office.”
According to a police affidavit filed in court Monday, Gagnon initially denied sexual contact with the girl, but later told police that they “leaned on each other emotionally during difficult times they were going through.”
While the girl was having problems with her boyfriend, Gagnon told police she confided in him and the two began a physical relationship, according to the affidavit. He said they began having sexual intercourse in the back seat of his car, including during school hours, when Gagnon would tell his class that they were taking the vehicles they were working on for a test drive.
Cara Courchesne, communications director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Violence, said it’s difficult to quantify how many sexual abuse incidents involve students and educators, but it is common in the public eye.
“When we hear about this type of unlawful sexual relationship, it is quite often between educator and student,” Courchesne said. “When someone is having what is an inappropriate sexual relationship that involves a power differential, I think it’s more common than we might think it is.”
The technical center, which is in Waldo, offers an alternative curriculum focused on trade skills for students at Mount View, the Belfast area Regional School Unit 20 and the Searsport school district.
Police interviewed other students who said that Gagnon frequently flirted with female students in a way that made them uncomfortable. He also met with the girl at least twice outside of school — including at a Super 8 motel in Bangor last month — and the two exchanged frequent text messages, according to the affidavit.
Gagnon’s wife was unaware of what was going on with the girl, but said that he frequently gets phone calls and text messages from students, according to the police affidavit.
Officials at RSU 3 initially contacted police on Thursday after hearing talk among students that Gagnon was having sex with a student at the technical center, where students from that district as well as Belfast-based Regional School Unit 20 can take classes. The 18 programs offered include culinary arts, building and construction, computer technology, graphic design and welding.
In 2011, nearly 50 percent of assaults reported to Maine’s sexual violence service providers related to child sexual abuse, according to the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Nationwide, nearly 70 percent of all sexual assault reports involve a victim under the age of 18, according to the coalition.
Courchesne said sexual violence is under-reported.
“I think part of sexual violence prevention is having people acknowledge the power differential that is prevalent and knowing boundaries, both personal and outlined in the law and accepting those boundaries,” Courchesne said.
Gagnon is being held at the Waldo County Jail on $10,000 cash bail or $20,000 in property, according to Waldo County District Attorney Geoff Rushlau.
Staff writer Jesse Scardina contributed to this story.Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 firstname.lastname@example.org