Bryan Lee Johnston

Johnston

A former Hillcrest High School teacher and coach was sentenced to a rider program Monday for stalking a former student.

Bryan Lee Johnston, 50, was arrested in September following an investigation into the stalking. The Idaho Falls Police Department discovered Johnston had enlisted current and former students in his attempts to stalk the victim, and that he engaged in bizarre behavior such as putting a recorder in the victim's bedroom and urinating on her bed. Johnston resigned from his teaching position in August.

According to court records, the victim requested a civil protection order after the two ended a relationship.

“She reported alarming behavior from Johnston including attempting to enter her home in the nighttime hours when she wasn’t home, text messages and calls from computer-generated phone numbers she suspected to be him, threats to harm himself because she was calling off the relationship, ... items missing from her home, ... and punctured tires on her vehicle,” the police report stated.

The victim called police at least eight times between May 29 and June 14 to report Johnston was following her around, primarily at a coffee shop she would visit before work.

The victim gave an impact statement, saying she had become afraid every time she saw someone who looked like Johnston or had a similar car. The victim said she could not trust others because Johnston had enlisted her friends and strangers to help him stalk her.

"This day has been a long time coming, and I can't wait for it to be over," she said.

Defense Attorney John Cutler said his client had respected the no-contact order since his arrest, and that the six weeks he spent in jail was a wake-up call. He said Johnston had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder since his arrest, and that the psychological treatment he is receiving outside of jail could prevent him from repeating his actions.

Cutler also cited Johnston's career as a teacher and a coach, and several community awards he received, including twice being named teacher of the year. He said a rider program would be more for punishment than treatment.

"I'm not sure what could be gained by putting him on a rider," Cutler said.

Bonneville County Deputy Prosecutor Tanner Crowther criticized Cutler's argument for focusing only on rehabilitating Johnston, arguing that punishment was a valid reason for a sentence as well.

Crowther also cited the fact that Johnston continued the stalking even after his first arrest.

"It's not just once and twice, but over, and over and over," Crowther said.

Crowther cited interviews with the students and former students who Johnston enlisted. They told police Johnston had asked them to drive by the victim's house, let air out of her tires and discussed breaking into her house to place the recording device.

One of the enlistees said she was uncomfortable with what Johnston was asking, but that he had threatened to hurt himself if she didn't cooperate. He had talked about stealing the victim's cat, and tried to find the identity of the victim's boyfriend by posting the man's license plate online.

Crowther said he often receives questions from victims of abuse about what they can do if there is not enough evidence to prosecute their abuser. Crowther said he recommends a civil protection order, prompting those victims to ask what happens if the abuser violates the order.

"I guess we're about to find out," Crowther said.

Johnston apologized to the victim in his statement to the court, as well as his students and colleagues, the community and his family.

"I sincerely regret and feel deep sorrow for what I have done," Johnston said.

District Judge Joel Tingey acknowledged the support Johnston received from his family and his involvement in the community, saying he had previously been a role model. He referred to Cutler's argument that a rider program was more punitive, but agreed with Crowther that punishment was justified due to how "hellish" he made the victim's life.

"I get a lot of letters that support Dr. Jekyll, but I'm sentencing Mr. Hyde," Tingey said. 

Johnston was given an underlying sentence of one-and-a-half to five years in prison. A rider program, also known as retained jurisdiction, allows a defendant to undergo six months to a year of treatment in prison. At the end, Tingey will receive a report of the inmate's performance and can either impose the remainder of the sentence or release them on probation.

Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746.

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