Former WHS coach gets probation for sex-act charges
By Jerry Sena
Latina Davis, whose brief tenure as a Watauga High School girls’ basketball coach ended with her arrest on charges of sexually assaulting a female student, pled guilty to a reduced charge on Monday.
Defense attorney J. Steven Brackett and former Watauga High School girls’ basketball coach Latina Davis stand outside the county courthouse Monday.
Photo by Jerry Sena
The plea bargain resulted in the dismissal of three felony charges — statutory rape, indecent liberties with a minor, and sex offense against a student — that could have sent her to prison for at least 16 years.
Davis, a former University of Tennessee basketball player, pled guilty to a charge of crimes against nature, a low-level felony that will keep her out of prison and off the state’s sex offender registry.
Superior Court Judge Janet Marlene Hyatt sentenced Davis to 24 months of supervised probation.
The felony conviction means Davis will never teach in North Carolina public schools.
She is also forbidden from communicating with or contacting the victim or the victim’s family.
Davis appeared upbeat but nervous as she sat beside her attorney, J. Steven Brackett, just before her plea and sentencing hearing was to begin, at 11 a.m., Monday.
She listened attentively and smiled from time to time as she signed documents and awaited the judge’s arrival.
Her victim, who is now 16, entered through a secured entrance near the front of the Watauga County Courthouse’s large main courtroom. She sat quietly in a front-row seat next to her mother as the judge and assistant district attorney Charlie Byrd worked through the morning docket.
After a short recess, the judge turned immediately to Davis’ case. The defendant never looked toward her victim as Byrd read a summary of the incident that led to the charges.
According to the summary, the girl had written an essay for Davis’ healthful living class, in which she’d revealed troubling details of turmoil at home and with her boyfriend.
Davis had dinner with the girl and her mother in their home and, afterward, invited the girl to her apartment to watch the cable television show, “Sex in the City.”
According to the victim, Davis was reluctant to drive the student home after the hour-long program, which aired sometime after 9 p.m., and suggested she spend the night instead. The mother granted permission for the overnight stay and the two slept in Davis’ bed.
The girl said she was nude as she rested her head on Davis’ chest and the teacher stroked her back and later sexually abused the girl.
The victim reported the offense about five days later. Upon learning of the allegations, school officials alerted police and placed Davis on administrative leave. She was arrested Sept. 18, 2003, and immediately charged with sex offense against a student and statutory rape of a minor at least six years younger than she.
A Watauga County grand jury brought an additional felony charge in February, 2004, alleging indecent liberties with a child.
Davis declined an opportunity to make a statement during the sentencing phase of Monday’s hearing, but stared down at the table as her attorney spoke on her behalf.
Contradicting the DA’s version of events, Brackett said Davis tried to discourage the girl from staying with her that night. The girl’s persistence, and what Brackett called her teacher’s “naïve” belief “she could save the world” led Davis to consent to the sleep-over, he said.
Brackett said he’d become close to Davis in the year and a half he’d known her and described her as proud and a “very fine young woman.” He said Davis had been “naïve in her appraisal as to what she could do to help students in her class.”
Davis admitted touching the girl, Brackett continued, but denied it was sexual in nature.
In arguing for no jail time, Brackett said Davis would be punished enough by her disqualification from teaching and a felony conviction that “will follow her the rest of her life.”
He suggested that Davis’ fame in her home state of Tennessee, a result of her prominent role with the University of Tennessee’s 1995-96 national championship women’s basketball team would make the stigma of a criminal conviction particularly hard to bear.
“She’s a person that just about everybody in Tennessee recognizes,” Brackett said. “This has been a terrible blow to her.”
Her victim, who was 14 at the time of the incident, declined to speak during the hearing. The assistant district attorney read a statement for her.
In the statement, the girl said she didn’t think Davis should ever again be allowed to teach, either in North Carolina or anywhere.
She suggested Davis had manipulated her vulnerability and used her position of trust to exploit her sexually. “I feel she can find people’s weaknesses and take advantage of it,” Byrd read from the victim’s statement.
The teen said she’d been in counseling since the assault and believed she would need counseling the rest of her life as a result of the trauma. The cost of her treatment, read the statement, was currently being covered by Medicaid. The coverage would conclude on her 18th birthday, however, leaving her no means to pay for further counseling.
She asked the court to help her find some way to pay for therapy once the Medicaid funding was discontinued.
As the hearing concluded, the victim and her mother exited through the same secured door through which they’d entered and were unavailable for comment.
Davis fought back tears as she left the courtroom through the main entrance. She declined to comment on the case and referred questions to her attorney.
Brackett said he was satisfied with the plea agreement, though Davis had wanted to take the case to trial. After much consideration, Brackett said he’d come to believe the charges — especially that of statutory rape, with its minimum sentence of 16 years confinement — were too perilous to try before a jury.
“I just felt it was too much to risk. The judge would have no choice but to sentence her to 16 years, whether he wanted to or not,” he said.
Brackett also said he didn’t believe his client could get a fair trial in Watauga County. He would not specify on the record the reason for his belief, however.
“The charges had been brought without any physical or scientific evidence,” Brackett said. “It was going to be Latina’s word against the girl’s.”
While Davis will carry the felony conviction on her record for life, Tennessee law allows felons to obtain or reinstate a teaching license once probation is completed. Brackett did not say whether Davis intended to seek employment as a teacher following completion of her sentence.
During the hearing, Brackett said Davis has returned to her home town of Winchester, Tenn., south of Nashville, and has been working as a security officer.
* Jerry Sena may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.