High School teacher arrested on felony charges

Heber-Overgaard Unified School District signage

HEBER/OVERGAARD—Mogollon High School science teacher Melinda Porter, 36, of Heber/Overgaard was arrested Monday on five charges arising from an alleged “inappropriate relationship” with a student, according to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Division.

In a news release on October 21, NCSO says that they began investigating allegations made by a student on September 3 against the science teacher at Mogollon High School. She abruptly resigned. After a six-week investigation, detectives arrested Porter on three counts of furnishing harmful items to a minor, one count of aggravated assault of a minor, and one count of kidnapping, which usually means restraining someone.

Melinda Porter

Porter

They are all felony allegations. The furnishing harmful material charge is a Class 4 felony. There are different kinds of aggravated assault and kidnapping charges, so the class of each felony alleged against Porter is not yet known. She is presumed to be innocent.

Porter was booked into the Navajo County jail in Holbrook on Monday, but as of press time, according to jail records, she does not appear on its roster. That suggests that she posted a bond and was released pending trial.

There are two scenarios about what happens next.

Police officers and detectives are not allowed to file felony charges against anyone — they can only file misdemeanor charges. Porter faces five felonies. Because felonies are serious charges that could result in a long prison term, the law says that a prosecutor — a trained and licensed attorney — must review the evidence gathered so far and determine if there is probable cause to believe Porter committed the crimes.

If so, the county attorney’s office can file a direct complaint sometimes called an “information” with a justice court. To add to the safeguards afforded to an accused felon, the justice court would then set a preliminary hearing to see for itself if the state is correct about its probable cause determination. If the judge finds that there is indeed probable cause, the case will be transferred to superior court for all further proceedings, beginning with an arraignment.

The county attorney can approach it a different way, by taking the matter to a grand jury. The grand jury will hear what the detectives have to say and decide if there is probable cause to charge Porter — either with the charges the prosecutor is seeking — or charges that the grand jury might come up with their own.

If they find probable cause for one or more charges, the grand jury would then hand up (to the judge) an indictment, which goes directly to superior court and by-passes the preliminary hearing process in justice court. The superior court judge in turn then issues a summons, handed down from the bench, requiring Porter’s appearance in court for her arraignment.

School district impact

Porter resigned from her teaching position shortly after she was contacted on campus by non-uniformed officers in early September.

“This is an unfortunate situation and circumstance — one that any school district in the country would not want to be faced with,” said Heber-Overgaard Unified School District Superintendent Ron Tenney in a brief phone interview with the Independent on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

“For the students and faculty, we are going to do our best to move forward and put this behind us,” he added. “Our kids are pretty resilient and the staff has done a good job at handling the situation. Both students and staff are staying focused on this school year and the things they need to get done.”

“We are also very blessed to have had a qualified science teacher able to step in and take over the Mrs. Porter’s science class and move forward. That person was on our substitute list and is qualified. The position was offered to him, he accepted and we moved forward with the class.”

The high school principal, Reed Porter, is related to Melinda Porter which has the potential to heighten the awareness within the district. In addition, Tenney confirmed that the alleged victim and two of the former teacher’s children are still attending school in the district.

“We do have a guidance counselor, Mrs. Kelton, and she readily makes herself available to students to visit and work through things,” says Tenney. “She has a really good rapport with the students.”

“Being in a small community, this type of situation can be very polarizing but can also bring people together to fix things, to unify us and to help us work together,” he adds.

Although the district office hasn’t had any parents reaching out to them regarding the situation, Tenney stressed that that the administration is “ ... here if they have any questions or concerns. Hopefully parents feel comfortable reaching out to myself or to any of our school principals. We encourage them to do so if needed.”

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

(9) comments

Joylove

Thank you for your informative and thoughtful reporting of these allegations. I am so happy to hear that instead of encouraging the public to jump to false conclusions and assume guilt you are reminding everyone that she is presumed innocent. What a wonderful change. Thank you.

I personally am deeply troubled by what this family is facing. I highly doubt there is much truth to these allegations. It is amazing and scary how broad our laws are written. Almost any action can be charged criminally regardless of the persons intent. We assume that law enforcement is using common sense and sound reasoning before pressing charges that could tear a community apart and destroy a family. But all too often they are taking advantage of the naivety of the accused and tricking them or other witnesses into saying phrases that will later be used against them. Not every allegation deserves a charge. Law enforcement and the prosecuting attorneys office need to take a good look at their priorities and what they are costing the community they serve.

We need to make some changes in Navajo County. We need to stop the witch hunts and focus on building and uniting our communities.

My prayers are with this family and our community.

The Concho Cowboy

So do you think they should do nothing? Report back when the trial is over.

Kahuna

Wow Joylove. Do you really believe there's no truth to these allegations? You think that Law enforcement has nothing better to do than arrest teachers? Or is this another attempt to cover up all the crimes that occur in this pristine little town. Witch hunt? How much Faux Spews do you watch?

rodeo2

Funny how there haven't been any updates. She has many relatives who are high in the LDS church.

Smalltownmama

I have teenage sons this scares me that someone In a position of trust would do this .... there had to something more than a witch hunt to be arrested ... and my heart goes out to the innocent ... the family and the student

SLYaqui

It would appear that in their effort to remain totally unbiased, the reporters have offered an inaccurate statement: "Police officers and detectives are not allowed to file felony charges against anyone - they can only file misdemeanor charges." Misleading, clumsy at best.

And, Joylove is already circling the wagons. Attacking law enforcement doesn't alter the fact there is a juvenile victim and a viable suspect.

(Charges filed by law enforcement are only preliminary. The county attorney or a grand jury file formal felony charges. WMI)

(Edited by staff.)

SLYaqui

The reason officers, deputies, and detectives do not "file" felonies is simply that is not their job. They have, however, charged and booked the suspect with felonies, based on probable cause.

disgusted

Let me paint a picture for a few of you that are certain of this woman's guilt. Let's say you pick up one of your children's friends after school because they can't get of a parent. However before taking them home, you needed to run to the grocery store and get a few things. You've known this kid for years, so this isn't a big deal right. When they climb out of the car, you walk them to the door, give them a high five and a quick hug. Then later you send them a text asking them to let you know if they need anything and to let you know when their parents get home. You can now be accused of exactly what this woman has been accused of. You didn't have custodial permission to take this kid (kidnapping), you hugged them (that's unlawful imprisonment), and then the texting (the dangerous material). What were your intentions? None of what you have done seems wrong, but that is where you are gravely mistaken. Let's even go so far as to say the kid and family are not in the least upset with what you have done, I mean, haven't you just done them a serious favor? However, someone else saw you at the store and anonymously contacts the police over their "concern" that your actions are unseemly. This is how these things happen. Not everyone's actions are criminal, even though the Navajo County Prosecutors office, which loves spending your tax dollars on frivolous cases, obviously doesn't have enough to do with all the time on their hands.

Pause before you judge a person based on an article, especially when there is very little information on what actually happened. I'm with Joylove, I highly doubt there is much legitimacy to any of these charges. Start doing your homework folks, Navajo County Prosecutors are definitely making a name for themselves. Is it one that you really are pleased with?

And the comment about her religious affiliation and how that somehow affects any of this, is beyond ludicrous. Obviously you don't like members of that particular denomination. You should probably get over it, and stop judging. Unless of course you were actually a witness to something and care to share. I believe the only thing stated was that she was employed by the school district, didn't have anything to do with her church.

wiseowl2007

Amen! Thank you disgusted.

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