By Rachel Kytonen
Isanti County News
“A year ago this month, our family’s life changed forever. After our daughter left school that day, she came home a different person. This is something as parents we never expected to happen from a teacher, and something our daughter never expected to happen from someone she considered a friend.”
Assistant Anoka County Attorney Amy Reed-Hall read those words on behalf of the victim’s family during the Nov. 14 sentencing of a former Braham physical education teacher who pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct.
Christopher Calvin Vavra, 25, pleaded guilty May 16, 2012 to felony, 4th degree criminal sexual conduct.
Vavra was originally charged in Isanti County District Court in Cambridge Nov. 28, 2011 with 2nd degree criminal sexual conduct and 4th degree criminal sexual conduct. Both charges are serious felonies, noting Vavra was in a position of authority over the victim.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, the first count of 2nd degree criminal sexual conduct was dismissed. Vavra will serve 135 days in Isanti County Jail, and had to report by Nov. 16. He will be on supervised probation for 10 years under the Department of Corrections, and will have to register as a predatory offender for 10 years.
The victim was a student at Braham Area High School and the incidents took place during the school day.
Under questioning by Reed-Hall, Vavra admitted in court May 16 to having a conversation with the victim Nov. 21, 2011, indicating he had a confession to make and “wanted to fool around with her.”
He further admitted to having another conversation with her the next day and admitted to hugging her, kissing her and touching her in different places over her clothing.
Vavra began with the Braham School District as a teacher in September 2010. He is a 2005 graduate of Braham Area High School, and was a stand-out athlete in high school and in college.
Vavra apologized through tears to everyone impacted by his actions.
“I am deeply sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, friends, my wife and the entire Braham community as a result of my actions,” Vavra said during sentencing. “I take full responsibility for my actions and I deserve the consequences given to me. I’m sorry to the victim and the victim’s family for the unnecessary hurt and pain I’ve caused you. I’m so sorry I misused my position of authority for selfish desires.”
The victim’s family said their daughter had heard good things about Vavra, and was excited to have him as a teacher.
“Our daughter became comfortable with him, and as parents, we took comfort in the fact she had someone she considered a good friend at the school and someone she could trust. What happened last year completely turned her life upside down, and as parents, completely turned our lives upside down,” Reed-Hall read. “As he spends time in jail, we hope he thinks about how he changed her life forever, and as time passes, we hope all parties involved can heal.”
The victim’s family said in time they will be able to move forward.
“We hold no hard feelings toward his family—they are just as much victims as we are,” Reed-Hall read. “We will find a way to forgive, find peace and move forward, but today is not the day.”
Reed-Hall reminded the court that high school is supposed to be a pleasurable time for students.
“Most of us look back at our high school days and have relatively fond memories,” Reed-Hall said. “Because of this defendant, this young girl’s memories of high school will be scarred forever. This defendant abused his position of authority and manipulated this young girl for his own sexual gratification and this is unacceptable under the state of Minnesota.”
Prior to sentencing, Judge Robert Rancourt noted Vavra has no identifiable issues with substance abuse and hasn’t been diagnosed with any mental health issues or any personality disorders.
“The court is concerned that as a teacher, in a position of authority, the defendant took advantage of an innocent student,” Judge Rancourt said. “This is not acceptable behavior by any stretch of the imagination. When I look out into the courtroom I see a lot of support for the victim and defendant, and see a lot of anguish. I hope the victim in this case will take the appropriate steps to seek counseling that may help with any issues she may have, such as breach of trust. The victim may not feel the need to do this at this time, but it is important to address what happened to her. It will be important for her to not hold this inside, otherwise it could be detrimental to her.”
Judge Rancourt acknowledged the court received several letters of support on behalf of Vavra from his family, his wife, his in-laws and counseling support groups he has been a part of, but acknowledged the severity of the crime.
“Mr. Vavra has lost his career, but this young lady has lost her innocence,” Judge Rancourt said. “Mr. Vavra, I hope you have learned something from this event. It troubles me greatly that this young lady goes to school for the purpose of education, but this wasn’t the type of education she was looking for. My message to the community as far as trust—as teachers, clergy members and others in a position of authority—you need to understand what your position is and take responsibility for your actions. It does seem Mr. Vavra is remorseful.”
Vavra’s attorney, Sherwood McKinnis, talked about the $1,500 fine, and also the court order that orders Vavra to pay any restitution costs or counseling costs incurred by the victim.
McKinnis said his client is very remorseful, and has been pro-active in attending counseling sessions, rehabilitation and meeting the terms of his probation. McKinnis noted that based on Vavra’s psychosexual evaluation, he his not likely to re-offend.
“Mr. Vavra has lost his job and his career, and like hundreds of others across the state, he’s looking for work as a construction worker,” McKinnis said. “This case has had a significant impact on his family and he has lost his career. This will have life impacts and detrimental consequences for my client. As he faces his jail sentence, this will have an emotional and mental toll because of what it means to his victim, his wife and family.”
Judge Rancourt also ordered Vavra not to use or possess pornography, and any electronic devices in his possession, such as cell phones or computers, will also be subject to random searches for pornography.
Vavra is not allowed to attend any events on behalf of Braham Area High School or be allowed on the school property. He was ordered not to have any direct or indirect contact with the victim or have any unsupervised contact with minors unless approved by probation or the Department of Corrections. He is also not allowed to possess a firearm for the rest of his life, and can’t move out of the state of Minnesota unless approved by the Department of Corrections, and the state he is moving into.
Vavra was also ordered to successfully enter and complete adult sex offender treatment and aftercare as approved by the Department of Corrections.
Judge Rancourt informed Vavra that if he successfully completes and follows all the conditions of his probation the next 10 years, his felony stay of imposition conviction will be reduced to a misdemeanor.
However, Judge Rancourt told Vavra he doesn’t want to see him again in a courtroom.
“This court will maintain this file to monitor for any future probation violations,” Judge Rancourt said. “If the court becomes aware of any probation violations, and they are proven in a court hearing, you can be rest assured you will go to prison.”