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Kent-Meridian teacher, coach pleads not guilty to sex crime charge
A Kent-Meridian High School teacher and coach pleaded not guilty Thursday morning to a charge of communication with a minor for immoral purposes for allegedly sending sexually explicit text messages to a 16-year-old girl at the school.
Ernie Ammons, 36, of Black Diamond, entered the plea in King County Superior Court at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
Ammons, who coached boys and girls track and cross country at Kent-Meridian, was handcuffed, booked and fingerprinted and then released Thursday after he posted bail. Bail was set at $50,000.
Several girls and boys from the track and cross country teams and fellow teachers showed up in court to support Ammons, who taught health and physical education.
The Kent School District placed Ammons on paid administrative leave Nov. 8 when the allegations first came to the district's attention, said district spokesman Chris Loftis. Ammons has been removed from his coaching duties as head track and cross country coach.
The court ordered that Ammons be prohibited from teaching, coaching, volunteering or holding any position of authority over minors while the case is pending.
Ammons, who is married, is scheduled to return to court in January, although a date has yet to be set. At his next court appearance, Ammons could receive a trial date or attorneys could ask for more time to prepare the case.
If convicted as charged, Ammons could be sentenced up to one year in jail and fined $5,000, said Ian Goodhew, spokesman for the Prosecuting Attorney's Office. If convicted, Ammons also would have to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years because it is a sex offense.
Prosecutors charged Ammons Dec. 8 after an investigation by Kent Police, who cited him at large on Dec. 6.
A series of text messages reportedly were exchanged between Ammons and the girl from June 27 through Nov. 6. In an Oct. 13 text message, Ammons asked the girl to meet him for sex in the school's weight room before school, according to charging papers. The two also exchanged messages about Ammons paying the girl cash for sex.
The case came to the attention of school officials in early November when a student at another school who knows the 16-year-old girl contacted Kent-Meridian Principal Wade Barringer about inappropriate conversations between a health teacher at the school and a student. The teacher was later identified as Ammons. School officials contacted the Kent Police.
Ammons led the Kent-Meridian boys track team to its first state track title last May when they captured the Class 4A meet. He has coached track and field at Kent-Meridian for eight years. He led the boys track team to a second-place trophy at state in 2009. He coached the school's cross country teams as well and helped lead the girls team to its first state appearance in November. They placed 16th.
Ammons also has worked as a volunteer assistant track coach since 2009 at Green River Community College in Auburn.
Ammons is the second South Puget Sound League coach charged with a sex crime by county prosecutors in the last month. Prosecutors on Nov. 16 charged Daniel Gregory Lum-Lung, who coached girls volleyball at Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines, with third-degree attempted rape in connection with a 15-year-old girl he met in October at Kent's Lake Meridian Park.
Lum-Lung pleaded not guilty Nov. 28 to the charge.