Colorado Springs lunch lady admits to letting teens booze it up in her home, gets probation

December 16, 2013 Updated: December 16, 2013 at 2:02 pm
photo - Tonya Harris
Tonya Harris 

A Colorado Springs lunch lady who authorities say served up sex to a 17-year-old student got off with probation Monday.

Tonya Harris, 34, pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a felony, after admitting in court that she allowed teen students to drink alcohol at her home during freewheeling parties hosted by her high-school age daughter.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Marla Prudek adopted the terms of a plea deal in sentencing Harris to three years on supervised probation and 100 hours of community service. She also must undergo alcohol counseling and a mental health screening.

The plea and sentencing resolved all charges in the case with no mention of the sexual escapade that briefly made Harris an Internet sensation - because prosecutors say that part of the story didn't rise to the level of a crime.

Harris, then a cafeteria worker at a Falcon School District 49 high school, was arrested in August after authorities say she had a three-way sexual encounter in her home involving a 17-year-old boy while "numerous individuals watched."

The arrest garnered the notice of well-read websites such as The Huffington Post, which publicized the arrest alongside her mug shot.

After reviewing the case, prosecutors said they concluded that sex between Harris and the boy was consensual.

At issue was whether Harris' job as a food service worker met the legal definition of "person of trust," said prosecutor Jennifer Viehman, a supervisor in the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Special Victims Unit.

Under the law, "persons of trust" are prohibited from pursuing sex with people under their care and authority, and face stiff penalties if convicted.

Teachers, clergymen and psychiatrists are among those who have been prosecuted under the statute in El Paso County in recent years.

In seeking an arrest warrant, El Paso County sheriff's investigators said Harris should be treated as a "person of trust" because she was responsible for correcting disciplinary problems during the lunch period and also collected lunch money.

Prosecutors say they didn't agree her job in the school cafeteria qualified her for the label, and declined to file charges, said Jennifer Viehman, a supervisor in the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Special Victims Unit.

"We looked at the law and the case law," Viehman said, adding that without that legal designation, the sex wasn't criminal.

Without addressing claims of sex, Harris apologized in court and said she was "ashamed" of her actions, which she said came after her mother died and her husband, an Air Force airman, was deployed to Afghanistan.

"I know it was wrong and I take responsibility for my actions," she said.

One of her attorneys, James Newby, said Harris is taking marriage and family counseling, and has agreed to an intensive outpatient program for alcohol use. She intends to have her probation transferred to South Carolina, where her husband has been reassigned.

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