A former student said she was “locked in a horrible cycle I didn’t even comprehend” after being groomed by a Proctor middle school teacher to partake in a yearlong series of sexual assaults.
But, after years of manipulation and attempts to silence her, Todd Robert Clark’s victim finally got her say in a Duluth courtroom on Monday.
In a letter read aloud by a representative, the young woman said, “What occurred here has emotionally devastated me in every manner possible.” “He discovered my weaknesses and exploited them to manipulate me, introducing himself into my life as the father figure he knew I need.”
Clark, a veteran high school basketball coach and teacher in the area, said he accepted responsibility for his conduct. Judge Theresa Neo, however, did not show mercy, calling the case “a parent’s worst nightmare” and imposing a four-year jail sentence as a guideline.
Clark, 52, looked to be ready for the situation, exchanging embraces and handing up his stuff to family members only moments before. He was handcuffed and escorted out of the courthouse by officers to begin serving his sentence right away.
The victim’s mother told the court, “He has broken apart a community to fulfill his own disease.”
Clark, who taught at A.I. Jedlicka Middle School until his arrest last August, pled guilty to a felony count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in April.
He admitting to having a connection with the girl and engaged in sexual activity with her when she was 15 years old. He admitted to sexually touching her with his hand inside a car on many occasions, under conditions that may be classified as coercion.
The victim had no capacity to offer permission because of her age and Clark’s position of control, and the activities were considered sexual assault.
On Monday, the girl and her mother revealed how Clark took advantage of a tense family situation that had been brought to the attention of school officials. The girl, who was a previous student in Clark’s eighth-grade algebra class, claimed they met outside of school — at first only for a meal or a car trip, with Clark subsequently “testing the waters” with kissing and improper touching.
Although it “didn’t seem right,” the victim felt compelled to keep Clark in her life. He demanded silence and threatened suicide if she came out, she claimed.
The girl told the court, “I was hammered into me that if anybody found out about the abuse, I would be responsible for his incarceration or death.”
“The damage on my family cannot be quantified,” the victim’s mother told the judge, noting a flood of insults and gossip from the school community since her daughter came forward to another teacher last summer.
“(She) still has moments of intense emotional discomfort,” the mother told the court, “and that’s something she’ll have to deal on for the rest of her life.”
“I’m just so sorry it happened the way it did,” Clark said in a long statement in which he denied influencing the situation but added, “I’m just so sorry it happened the way it did.”
Neo took a 20-minute break before returning to inform Clark of her choice, saying, “Your sorry didn’t seem like an apology.”
“I’m not sure you understand the anguish, damage, and harm you’ve brought to (the victim), her family, the community, and anybody who worries their kid may be a victim of sexual assault,” the judge added.
Clark, who has credit for 37 days already spent, must complete at least two-thirds of his sentence — 32 months — in prison before becoming eligible for 10-year supervised release. He’ll have to register as a predatory offender as well.
Clark, a 1988 Proctor High School alumnus, formerly worked as a middle school math teacher at Duluth’s Marshall School and coached varsity boys basketball at both Proctor and Marshall for 20 years.