SHAWNEE — Former Shawnee Public Schools assistant athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Ronald Arthur is now facing only one count of soliciting sexual contact with a minor by use of technology after Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney Abby Nathan dropped two of the original charges against Arthur.
The remaining charge stems from a 2021 incident in which Arthur allegedly used a smart phone to repeatedly contact a then-17-year-old Shawnee student in order to coerce the alleged victim into a sexual encounter. Oklahoma law classified this as a felony punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.
Originally, Arthur had also been facing a charge of forcible sodomy for an incident involving the same victim and a first-degree rape charge stemming from an alleged 2011 incident involving an 18-year-old Shawnee High School student. Both of those charges were dropped.
Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn explained the decision to Nolan Clay of The Oklahoman.
“Unfortunately, once my experienced prosecutors looked at the case, they realized those counts weren’t supported by the evidence and we had to take the necessary steps to dismiss those and press forward with the count we could prove,” Mashburn said.
“We are very pleased that Cleveland County evaluated it and made the decision to dismiss two of the counts prior to the (preliminary hearing),” Arthur’s attorney, Shelley Levisay said Thursday. “We’re very happy about that.”
During a preliminary hearing in Pottawatomie County District Court on Thursday, Special District Judge David Cawthon set Arthur’s arraignment for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, with Pottawatomie District Court Judge John Canavan presiding. Parties participated in Thursday’s hearing via video conference call, and only Cawthon, the court reporter and two journalists were present in the courtroom.
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The preliminary hearing had been slated to begin in Pottawatomie County District Court in April, but Pottawatomie County District Attorney Alan Grubb recused himself at the last minute, at the victim’s request, owing to an alleged conflict of interest, and Cawthon issued a continuance in the case.
In May, Cawthon moved the jurisdiction of the hearing to Cleveland County, with Nathan prosecuting.
In early April, Sen. Shane Jett (R-Shawnee) held a press conference calling on Attorney General John O’Connor to launch a multi-county grand jury investigation into the allegations against Arthur and what Jett called a 15-year pattern of sexual abuse and coverup within the school district.
‘I guess he recognized me at school’
Throughout the approximately 30-minute court proceeding Thursday afternoon, Nathan and Levisay asked the alleged victim in the 2021 incident, who says he was 17 years old at the time, to recount his interactions with Arthur.
The age of consent in Oklahoma is 16, but the law regarding sexual contact via technology applies to all minors, and school employees are prohibited from having sexual contact with students in the school system where they work.
The alleged victim said he downloaded Grindr, a phone app designed to connect gay men, shortly before he graduated in May 2021. He said he began communicating with an individual with the username “older for younger,” who later turned out to be Arthur. He said Arthur is the one who first initiated conversation.
“(We had) some casual conversation, but it was mostly sexual. I was looking for a hookup, basically,” the alleged victim testified. “We talked about doing oral and stuff of that sort.”
The alleged victim said he sent a picture of his face to “older for younger” and that he made Arthur aware that he was 17 toward the end of May, but the sexual conversation continued. He said Arthur sent a photo of himself on the day they first met in person, which occurred shortly after graduation. He said Arthur picked him up from his house and traveled to a roundabout less than a mile away, where the two performed oral sex on each other.
During the meeting, Arthur told the alleged victim that the knew who he was from the picture he sent him.
“I guess he recognized me at school,” the alleged victim testified. “He said he saw me in the office at school and said he recognized me.”
The victim said he deleted the Grindr app after the first meeting, but re-downloaded it a few days before his 18th birthday. He said he and Arthur “hooked up” again in the same spot while the alleged victim was still 17 years old. He said he told his mom about the situation the next evening and that she reported it to law enforcement.
During cross examination, Levisay’s line of questioning included whether the alleged victim knew of an age requirement to use the app, if he had any copies of the communication he had with Arthur and whether he stayed on the app after the first meet up.
“How did you two meet up the second time if you had deleted the app?,” Levisay asked.
The young man said he met up with Arthur the same night that he re-downloaded the app.
“Did you ask him to come get you or something like that?” Levisay asked.
The victim responded that he had asked Arthur to pick him up. Levisay pushed the alleged victim to be more specific regarding his communications with Arthur.
“Is there a message that you recall being sent to you from ‘older for younger’ that you can give us some specifics on?” Levisay asked the young man.
“No,” he responded.
After the day’s hearing, Levisay said Arthur disagrees with some of the factual testimony given by the alleged victim.
“Particularly regarding when age was known and things like that,” Levisay said. “Further, I think, in this particular case, this law as applied is nonsensical, in that under the law you can have sex with a 16 year old, you can be in a relationship with a 16-year-old, you can talk about having sex in person. But if you use any electronic device to discuss it, it’s a crime. I just think that makes no sense.”
Arthur was arrested in August and had his educator certificate suspended by State Board of Education members at their meeting the same month.
According to the affidavit of probable cause, upon further investigation with search warrants, eight admonishments were found in Arthur’s employment file at Shawnee Public Schools for making vulgar and sexual comments to male students and for making vulgar comments about female students. The district had also received allegations of Arthur inappropriately touching a male student’s buttocks, sending inappropriate text messages to students and having contact with students alone when he was not allowed to, per his previous reinstatements.