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Update: Accused teacher pleads not guilty

Yamamoto, alleged victim exchanged nearly 50,000 text messages, DA’s office says
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald editor
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The physics teacher arrested in September for alleged inappropriate conduct with a student has pleaded not guilty to the eleven charges against him, seven of which are felonies. Details of the case have emerged that include an alleged second victim.

Matthew Yamamoto, 33, of Rocklin, was a physics teacher at Whitney High School for six years. He’s been out on $100,000 bail following his Sept. 17 arrest after Rocklin police officers received information regarding an unlawful intimate relationship between the teacher and a juvenile student. He was arrested for child molestation and for arranging a meeting with a minor for purposes of committing a lewd act.

According to court records, Yamamoto now faces 11 counts, seven of which are felonies, for alleged crimes against two minor girls. In addition to allegedly committing the crimes of oral copulation with a minor, unlawful sexual intercourse, attempted unlawful sexual intercourse, communication with a minor with intent to commit an unlawful offense, meeting with a minor for the purpose of engaging in certain lewd and lascivious behavior and going to the meeting place, and dissuading a witness from reporting a crime, Yamamoto is also charged with four counts of child molestation

At Yamamoto's arraignment Wednesday, Placer County Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Macumber requested that Judge Angus Saint-Evens raise Yamamoto’s bail based on new evidence.

“There is an additional victim, and a significant amount of evidence in this case that would lead any reasonable person to believe the defendant is a predator,” she said.

In documents filed by the District Attorney’s Office in The People of the State of California vs. Matthew Scott Yamamoto, the physics teacher was also involved in Whitney High’s leadership program and other extracurricular activities.

“Defendant is currently 33 years of age,” the report reads, “but looks, and apparently acts, young for his age.”

The report adds that witness described Yamamoto as “touchy-feely” with his students, particularly the girls, and was known to approach his female students and touch their legs or rub their shoulders.

“The fact that the defendant was unusually ‘close’ to his female students was observed by other students as well as other teachers,” according to the report, “and rumors regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships were often the topic of conversation at the school.”

The report adds that Yamamoto was counseled about his behavior by colleagues, but it was never reported to law enforcement.

In the 2010-2011 school year, according to the report, Yamamoto selected Jane Doe 1 as his teacher’s assistant for physics class. The two allegedly began to spend “an inordinate amount of time together, including secret dates at nighttime to ‘stargaze’ together.”

The motion further charges that Yamamoto gave gifts to the minor, including flowers and a telescope. When her parents discovered the relationship, the two were no longer allowed to be together alone.

Meanwhile, the report reads, Jane Doe 2 entered Whitney High as a freshman, and eventually Yamamoto became her private math tutor for a few years, despite the fact that she was not in his class and he was not a math teacher.

According to the report, the two eventually started communicating online, via text message and in person during and after school. In May 2011, when Jane Doe 2 was a junior, the relationship reportedly consisted of secret meetings outside of school. It allegedly became physical, and during one sleepover Yamamoto allegedly painted the student’s toenails.

“However, during the course of Jane Doe #2 and defendant’s relationship,” the report reads, “Jane Doe #2 did make a disclosure to a good friend that the relationship was, in fact, sexual.”

A friend reported the relationship to the school, which began its own investigation. When the two were interviewed, they denied having an inappropriate relationship, the report reads, but on the night of the interview Yamamoto and the student allegedly had an hour-long phone conversation after which they “concocted a new version of the story,” in which they had only kissed and spent the night together in the same bed, without anything sexual occurring.

“This version of the story is unreasonable based on the further investigation that has been done and is still ongoing,” according to the report, including that both reportedly erased all text and Facebook messages from their phones and that the text-capable iPod Yamamoto reportedly gave to the student has disappeared.

So far, the report added, “over 49,700 text messages between Jane Doe and the defendant from January to September of 2012 alone have been retrieved via a search warrant executed in this case. These text messages were not school-related, were sent at all hours of the day or night, on weekdays and the weekend, and reveal a very close and intimate relationship between the two.”

The ongoing investigation includes assistance from the FBI’s high-tech task force to obtain additional forensic evidence from Yamamoto’s computer, due to the reported “government level” encrypting software he installed on it to delete certain files. The extent of the evidence is still being determined, according to the report, “So far, however, the evidence does establish that the defendant engaged in ‘grooming’ behavior with many female students at the school. As such, the People strongly believe that further investigation will reveal additional evidence – possibly even additional victims – in this case.”

Yamamoto’s attorney, Shannon Baker, pointed out that Yamamoto had not had contact with the alleged victims since his arrest, but Macumber said there had been contact with Jane Doe 1 since the charge related to Jane Doe 2 came to light. Baker said she had only received a copy of the motion to increase bail Tuesday, that the defense had not been aware of a Jane Doe 1 and that the contact had been initiated by Jane Doe 1, not Yamamoto.

Baker declined to comment further on the case.

Jane Doe 2 is represented by Nina Salarno Ashford, a victims’ rights attorney who said that her client “does not feel threatened by the defendant,” as she is protected by a restraining order.

Saint-Evens did not increase Yamamoto’s bail, but said it will be reviewed at the time of the preliminary examination. He released Yamamoto with the added conditions that he have a monitoring device, that he have no access to the Internet, that he surrender his passport and not leave the United States or California and that he have no contact with any minors without a parent or guardian present. He is also to have no contact with the alleged victims.

In what was supposed to be Yamamoto's trial assignment appearance Friday, Macumber informed Saint-Evens that Yamamoto's arraignment had not been completed Wednesday - no plea had been taken. Yamamoto entered his not guilty plea Friday and will appear for trial assignment at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 16, in Department 33 of Placer County Superior Court.

On Friday, Macumber told Saint-Evens that even though Jane Doe 2 had a restraining order against Yamamoto, the investigation has shown that the two had been in almost daily contact via email up until Wednesday, when Yamamoto surrendered his smartphone and computer to the Rocklin Police Department.

"I think it's important for the court to know that the subject of those emails does surround facts and circumstances of the case," Macumber said.

Attorney Jonathan Turner, standing in for Baker on Friday, said the emails were not threatening and showed no attempt on Yamamoto's part to influence Jane Doe 2.

"The gist of it, I would characterize it as really just communication between two people who appear to care for one another," Turner said.

"Let's not gloss over the fact that they're supposed to have no contact," Saint-Evens said.

 

Baker informed the judge Wednesday that since Yamamoto is on unpaid administrative leave from his job, he is unable to keep his apartment and had planned to stay with his parents in Oregon.

“He’s going to have to make other arrangements to stay in California,” Saint-Evens said. “He is not to leave the state of California.”