ASHEBORO, N.C. -- A judge found a former Randolph County teacher not guilty of sexual battery in court on Friday.
The charge was filed against Jarret Elliott, 35, in April. Elliott taught in the Randolph County school system for 13 years. According to testimony in court, the school system asked Elliott to resign from his teaching and coaching position at Southwestern Randolph High School after the charge was filed.
Testimony in court on Friday shed light on the timeline and events surrounding the sexual battery accusation.
According to a female student and one of the prosecuting witnesses, the conflict began when the student and Elliott had a conversation outside his classroom on April 21. The student claimed that Elliott had yelled at her and used a curse word.
The student said she went home and expressed concern about Elliott to her parents. She told them she believed Elliott had inappropriate relationships and rapport with some male students.
The parents told the student if she believed inappropriate behavior was taking place, she needed to take a picture of it.
The incident in question happened on Monday, April 24. Another student in Elliott's class took a picture when a male student approached Elliott and sat on his knee.
The picture shows the student in the process of sitting down, with Elliott's hands appearing to touch the student's belt line and bottom.
The prosecution and defense went back and forth on the nature of this incident and whether any "sexual intention" occurred by Elliott.
Two students brought the picture and incident to the administration's attention. Elliott resigned on April 26. He turned himself in to authorities on April 27 and posted a $5,000 bond the same day.
Elliott testified on his own behalf during the trial, maintaining the innocence of what happened. Elliott was also a junior varsity basketball coach, and he admitted to "slapping" players' behinds in the athletic setting, but he said it never occurred in the classroom.
Several students, the school's principal and two school resource officer's testified for the state. Elliott, the student in the picture, and 22 other students were in the classroom at the time of the incident.
When the student in the photo took the stand, he said he didn't realize Elliott had touched his behind until he saw the photograph and detectives brought it to his attention.
He also told prosecutors he never felt intimated by or scared of Elliott. The student in the photograph also attended all three #FreeElliott rallies organized by his supporters to keep his involvement in the matter "low key."
Two school resource officers both witnessed the incident while they stopped by the classroom for an unrelated matter. They told the judge they didn't think anything of it at the time. One deputy joked to the classroom at the time that the kid looked like a puppet on his lap. One deputy also said had it been a girl on Elliott's knee, it "would have been different."
Shon Hildreth, Southwestern Randolph's principal, said every teacher at the school goes through yearly training that includes a section on sexual harassment. The training emphasizes avoiding situations that could be "potentially problematic" and construed as sexual, like hugging or touching. While the incident was not sexual battery, Hildreth indicated in his testimony Elliott did technically break school rules.
After the state and defense gave their closing arguments, District Court Judge Jayrene Maness immediately ruled in favor of Elliott with the not guilty verdict, saying there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the touching involved "sexual intention."
Cheers arose from the courtroom that was filled with supporters of the popular teacher and coach, who told FOX8 afterwards that he was going to take a vacation and weigh his options for the future.
We asked the school system if they wanted to comment on the verdict, or if they were plans to reinstate Elliott as a teacher. Even though Elliott is no longer an employee of the district, a representative said in an email, "This is a confidential personnel matter that we are not able to discuss."