California ‘teacher of the year’ arrested on sex charges
A California educator recently hailed as the "teacher of the year" was just arrested and charged last week with multiple sex crimes involving a minor.
The 34-year-old Jacqueline Ma pleaded not guilty to 15 separate criminal counts during a court appearance on Monday and was ordered to be held without bail, the Associated Press reported.
Ma, who teaches at Lincoln Elementary School in National City near San Diego, California, was just honored as the San Diego County "Teacher of the Year" in 2022.
Teacher described as "obsessive, possessive, controlling, and dangerous"
Local CBS affiliate WFMB reported that Ma had been arrested Tuesday, March 7, on suspicion of engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a child and then was bailed out of jail, only to be rearrested the next day on additional charges that included child pornography and witness intimidation.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Drew Hart said of Ma during the court hearing, "This defendant was obsessive, possessive, controlling, and dangerous."
"This defendant maintained a relationship with this child for months, maybe even more than a year, when she began grooming him, giving him gifts, helping him with school, and praising him," the prosecutor said of the inappropriate teacher-student relationship.
"Over time, the communications became sexual in nature. When the victim tried to dismiss these communications and put them off, she persisted even more," Hart explained. "At one point when the child was 12 years old, she got him in a position where he was alone in her classroom and started making advances. This victim did not know what to do and reported that it felt surreal."
"In these messages, the defendant was persistent in sending illicit photographs of herself to the victim and then soliciting the victim to do the same," he added. "She would persistently direct him to engage in sex acts while he was at home and to video record them."
Ma's defense attorney argued that the teacher should be released from jail pending trial, but the judge presiding over the case agreed with prosecutors that she posed a potential flight risk as well as danger to the public and the victim, and ordered her to continue to be held without bail at the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility.
Could face up to 29 years in prison
Local Fox affiliate KSWB reported that when Ma was arrested, according to Hart, "she had a photograph of the victim in her wallet, she had jewelry with his initials, love letters were discovered in her classroom. In some of the messages, she expressed frustration at the child for not responding to the situation quicker. She expressed jealousy when the victim was talking to other girls."
As noted, Ma's attorney had requested his client's pretrial release, but when the judge ordered her to remain held without bail, the lawyer told reporters, "We are obviously disappointed with the judge’s decision, we do not feel that Ms. Ma is a flight risk or a danger to the community in spite of all the charges that the people have filed in this case."
Local NBC affiliate KNSD reported that Ma faces a total of 15 charges that include three counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child, three counts of oral copulation with a child, possession of child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child, and preventing or dissuading a witness or victim, among other things.
She is due back in court on Thursday for a bail review hearing and, if eventually convicted on all counts, could face up to 29 years in state prison.
On leave and not allowed to return to campus
KNSD further reported that National City Superintendent Leighangela Brady confirmed that Ma had been placed on indefinite leave and would not be permitted to return to school for at least the duration of the criminal proceedings. She also noted that counselors had been made available for all students this week.
"While this entire situation is indeed deeply troubling, we appreciate that law enforcement is dedicating resources to secure the facts and keeping our school district and community informed of their progress," Brady said in a statement.
She added, "I want to confirm to our school community that the employee is on leave and will not be returning to the campus. I am grateful to our entire school community for facing this situation with a shared commitment to do all that we can to maintain our children’s education without interruption."