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Winona teacher, track coach charged with sexual misconduct

WCCO digital headlines: Morning of Feb. 25, 2024
WCCO digital headlines: Morning of Feb. 25, 2024 01:15

WINONA, Minn. — A southeastern Minnesota high school teacher and track coach is accused of having sex with several minor students, court documents filed Thursday reveal.

Eric Birth, 29, was charged with one count of criminal sex conduct in the third degree for "sexually penetrating" a 17-year-old girl in the fall of 2017, charging documents say. 

The Winona Police Department says in June 2023 it received an anonymous complaint that Birth had a sexual relationship with a former student while they were still in high school. When the victim was contacted, they denied the allegations. However, on Jan. 2, the victim contacted the police to discuss her relationship with Birth.

Police say they spoke to a 2018 Winona Senior High School graduate as a result of its investigation into Birth. Police questioned her Snapchat conversations with Birth while she was in high school. She allegedly told police that Birth had sent his address and she went to his house to do "sexual stuff," but she ended up leaving before anything could happen because she felt uncomfortable.

Charges state the two eventually had intercourse, which the victim said was planned and happened one morning before school, while her parents were at work.

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The victim recalled going into the principal's office the same year after someone had reported Birth's inappropriate behavior with some girls. She told police she had lied when questioned by school administrators because she was scared. She added that she thought the report included two other girls.

At least four girls reported to police having inappropriate contact with Birth. All four victims were members of the track team.

Birth took advantage of vulnerable girls, charges reveal

One girl, identified in court documents as "Victim #1", says Birth started a group chat on Snapchat with her and some other girls she ran with before school to prepare for the track season. She says Birth was involved with the group for a while and provided her and another one of the girls with his personal cell phone number.

The girl allegedly confided in Birth about her issues and reached out to him because she was having a difficult time. She says the two met in April 2022 at a pre-determined meeting spot to talk in person.

Birth reportedly got inside the girl's car and kissed her. She told police this made her uncomfortable but he pulled her from the vehicle and started to kiss her again. He then allegedly pulled down his pants and forced the girl to give him oral sex while he held her head down. The act was interrupted when another vehicle approached the area.

Charges allege Birth tried to get the girl to have intercourse in the back seat, but she refused. She says he tried to persuade her to have a relationship with him for the following two weeks.

The second victim included in the charging documents says Birth was her track coach when she attended Winona Senior High School in 2016 and that she confided in him while struggling with personal issues. She said that Birth told her that he could talk to him and he would "help her with whatever she needed."

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The girl, a member of the track team, told police that she and Birth had a relationship of a sexual nature, including intercourse, when she was just 16.

A third victim reported having a sexual relationship with Birth in April and May 2017 after she confided in him about personal issues she had been struggling with. She was only 17 at the time.

She added that Birth had called her during her senior year of high school, concerning an investigation by the school in regards to their relationship. She recalled a conversation with the principal asking about her relationship with Birth but says she denied any allegations.

Multiple witnesses also reported seeing a video of the third victim performing oral sex on Birth when they borrowed his phone one day at track practice.

Birth has been employed at Winona Area Public Schools since April 2016 as a coach, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. He has been a physical education teacher there since August 2021. He was placed on administrative leave in early January.

If convicted, Birth faces at least 15 years in prison.

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