A onetime Riverdale Christian Academy teacher who admitted having sex with a 16-year-old student on the school’s campus and an 18-year-old at that student’s home, and trading nude photos and texts with the minor, has dodged prison time and been put on probation.
Ashley Elizabeth Dowden, 42, of 314 Steele Blvd., who was fired shortly after her August arrest, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of molestation of a juvenile and a misdemeanor charge of prohibited conduct between an educator and a student.
Under the terms of a plea deal, state District Judge Trudy White gave Dowden — who is married and has a child — a suspended 15-year prison term on the felony charge and placed her on active supervised probation for five years. On the misdemeanor, White gave her a suspended six-month jail term and put her on bench probation for two years.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Tuesday the felony molestation charge was increased from carnal knowledge of a juvenile due to Dowden’s relationship as a teacher.
“We take this conduct very seriously. We want to know when we send our kids to school that our children are protected, not victimized,” he said, describing the plea as a fair resolution.
Moore said his office consulted with the victim’s family on the felony plea and they were in agreement with the plea and the probationary sentence. Dowden pleaded guilty as charged to the misdemeanor.
Dowden’s attorney, Beau Brock, said Dowden was dealing with medical and mental health challenges at the time of the incidents, and she continues to deal with those challenges.
“She has spent the last six months working to confront and overcome them and atone for her actions,” he said, adding that Dowden apologized last week to the victims’ families and to her own.
Dowden was ordered to register as a sex offender, which she already has done. The former English teacher also is barred from teaching or volunteering around juveniles.
Moore said Dowden accepted responsibility and agreed to the terms of her probation.
Moore’s office charged Dowden on May 12, the same day she pleaded guilty. The bills of information state that the illegal sexual conduct with the minor occurred last year between May 1 and May 20, and the prohibited sexual conduct with the 18-year-old took place last year between April 1 and April 30.
Dowden’s relationship with the 16-year-old came to light when his parents confronted him about explicit text messages on his phone.
The 16-year-old told sheriff’s detectives he had sex with Dowden on the private school’s Baton Rouge campus and also traded nude photographs and text messages. Dowden denied those allegations until deputies showed her the nude photos on the boy’s phone.
The 18-year-old told authorities that Dowden had sex with him at his house during her lunch break.
Dowden joined Riverdale Christian Academy in August 2013 and was into the second week of her second year at the school when she was arrested.
White will conduct her first review of Dowden’s probation on Nov. 16.