FORT WORTH -- A Tarrant County grand jury has declined to indict a former Keller district middle-school teacher for having an improper relationship with a student who did not attend his school.
Grand jurors returned a no-bill on Friday against Chad Eric Bearden, 34, of Haltom City, who left the Keller school district in January.
Bearden would have been one of the first Tarrant County teachers to face charges under a new Texas law that went into effect Sept. 1 involving educators and students having relationships.
Under the new law, an educator may not have a relationship with a student in the district where he or she is employed, even if the student is an adult. Previously, the law prohibited relationships between educators and students from the same campus.
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An improper relationship is defined as sexual contact or sexual intercourse or online solicitation for sex.
"We are pleased, and Mr. Bearden is relieved, that the grand jury took the time to look at all the facts and circumstances before voting on the case," said Lex Johnston, one of Bearden's attorneys.
Johnston noted that the grand jury may have decided that it wouldn’t be fair to prosecute the case because educators were not given enough information about the new law.
"Ignorance of the law is not a legal defense, but when the legislators change a law that only affects one particular class of people, it would only be fair that you actually provide notice to those people affected prior to the law going into effect," Johnston said in an email.
A no-bill is not a verdict of guilt or innocence in any case. Grand juror testimony and voting is confidential.
"The grand jury heard the evidence and the circumstances of the case and made a decision not to indict, which concludes this matter," said Melody McDonald, a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County district attorney's office. "We will not take a case back to the grand jury or re-file charges unless new evidence or crucial additional information surfaces."
Neither the teen nor her parents could be reached for comment Monday.
An investigation began in December when the Keller school district student and her parents reported the alleged improper relationship to school officials, who contacted Haltom City police. Bearden lived in Haltom City and that’s where the alleged incident took place, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Bearden gave school officials a statement in late December about having a sexual relationship with a then 17-year-old Keller school district student, the affidavit stated.
The alleged sex acts occurred from mid-October to November, Haltom City police said in the affidavit.
But Bearden told a Keller school official that he wasn't aware that he was committing a crime because she was 17 and she didn't attend his school, according to the affidavit.
He had taught drama at Hillwood Middle School in the Keller school district. The girl attended high school in the district.
Bearden began working in the district in July 2001 and resigned on Jan. 3.
Cindy Fitch, another attorney representing Bearden, said he is not teaching and will probably never teach again. He still has his teaching certificate, but there is a case pending before the sate licensing agency on it, she said.
"He is doing his best to put his life back together and begin a new career in the private sector," Fitch said in an email. "He, like most people who are charged with crimes of this type, just wants to live life like a normal person."