• New charge for Plum teacher accused of having sexual relationship with student

    Updated:

    PLUM, Pa. - The attorney for a suspended Plum High School teacher charged with having sex with an 18-year-old student says a new charge accusing the teacher of intimidating the alleged victim is "overkill."

    Jason Cooper, of Monroeville, was charged again Monday by Plum Borough police with witness intimidation.

    According to the Plum Borough Police Department, Cooper directly violated the conditions of his bond by contacting the student with whom he is accused of having a sexual relationship. 

    Authorities said Cooper’s bond was revoked, and he turned himself in Monday evening. 

    The criminal complaint revealed that it was the student’s father who told investigators that Cooper spoke with his daughter on the phone last Friday for 30 minutes.

    Police said they believe Cooper, 38, possibly influenced the victim’s testimony in his upcoming hearing.

    In addition to his original charges, Cooper is now facing one count of felony intimidation of a witness. 

    Defense attorney Michael DeRiso has argued the student sex charge is baseless because the girl was 18 when Cooper, a teacher at Plum High School, had sex with her. But police have said the relationship began when the girl was 17 and that the law dictates a student cannot legally consent to have sex with a teacher, regardless of age.

    DeRiso didn't deny that Cooper contacted the victim, but said his client wasn't trying to intimidate her.

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    Cooper, a science teacher at the school, was first arrested Feb. 11 and charged with one count each of institutional sexual assault, corruption of minors and furnishing alcohol to a minor. 

    According to the Plum Borough Police Department, the principal contacted the school resource officer on Jan. 29 after learning of a suspected relationship between a teacher and student.

    Police then conducted their own independent investigation into the allegations and determined Cooper was involved in a sexual relationship with a female student.

    A criminal complaint stated that Cooper and the senior student began communicating via Twitter in November.

    Police said the relationship involved inappropriate conduct occurring at the school, as well as Cooper’s residence.

    During the course of the investigation, police said additional information regarding a second inappropriate student-teacher relationship was uncovered that is not related to this one. 

    A week after Cooper’s first arrest, Joseph Ruggieri III, 40, was arrested after an investigation revealed he was also engaged in a sexual relationship with a student, police said.

    Plum Police Chief Jeff Armstrong said since the allegations began against Cooper and Ruggieri, he’s gotten several more phone calls from possible victims.  

    He said his investigators are currently looking into the possibility of other victims. 

    "The difficulty for us is sifting through that information, because we have to treat all that information as if it were credible,” said Armstrong. 

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