Stanza Performing Arts Company co-owner Kristopher Backman pleaded not guilty to charges of child molestation in the second degree in Snohomish County Superior Court-áon Thursday, July 21.
Monroe police arrested Backman at his Lewis Street dance studio on Tuesday, July 19, booking him into Snohomish County Jail. The Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office filed the felony charge on Wednesday, July 20, agreeing to release the 32-year-old Monroe man on his personal recognizance pending trial.
The arrest came on the heels of a seven-month investigation by Monroe police after a former Stanza student made allegations of sexual abuse that began in December 2014, when she was 14.
Located on the 200 block of South Lewis Street, Stanza Performing Arts Company offers instruction in various forms of dance, including contemporary, ballet, pointe, modern, tap and hip-hop. According to court documents, the alleged victim began taking classes in contemporary dance and ballet at Stanza when she was 13 years old.
Her training included group and private lessons with Backman.
In October 2015, the alleged victim and two other students left Stanza, due to a conflict with Backman. According to court documents, parents of the three students learned the girls were being embarrassed during class; Backman would allegedly single them out and use profanity when he spoke to them. They approached Backman and his wife in an attempt to work it out, but were unsuccessful.
In early November, the alleged victim's mother had an interaction with another Stanza parent that raised concerns. The parent informed her that Backman and his wife were spreading the rumor that one of the reasons her daughter left the studio was because the girl had a crush on Backman, according to court documents. This led her to question her daughter as to the nature of her relationship with Backman.
According to court documents, the victim denied she had a crush on Backman, but said she "enjoyed the positive attention he gave her.GÇ¥ Once she left the studio and began to reflect on her time at Stanza, she realized Backman's behavior was inappropriate, court documents state. Rather than working on dance routines during private lessons, the alleged victim reported Backman "shared lots of personal details with her and often talked about his unhappiness in his marriage,GÇ¥ according to documents.
Documents state Backman would invite her to the studio when nobody else was there, under the guise of working on a film project, and would "hover over her,GÇ¥ making her uncomfortable. According to the alleged victim, the first time he reportedly touched her inappropriately was while stretching during one of her private lessons. She reported being confused and thinking it must have been an accident.
According to documents, he sent her a text message later that night stating they would be working on her stretches at their next private lesson. The inappropriate touching allegedly went further the next time, and shocking the alleged victim. According to documents, she didn't tell her mom about the incidents immediately after they happened because she knew her mom would pull her from the studio.
She was able to determine that the initial assault allegedly occurred on Dec. 10, 2014, because of something she wrote on social media that day, documents state. The post read: "that ruined me.GÇ¥
The alleged victim's mother contacted the Monroe Police Department in November. In light of her daughter's alleged experiences at Stanza, she shared with police some things that had happened earlier in 2015.
During one incident, she said she went into the studio without Backman's knowing, during a private lesson, and noticed his hand on her daughter's hip. The instant he noticed her in the room, she said he pulled his hand back.
She also recalled that her daughter had asked her to reduce her private lessons from 90 minutes to 60, but gave no explanation why.
During the course of the investigation, detectives contacted several other girls who took classes at Stanza around the same time as the alleged victim. According to court documents, the girls did not report experiencing or witnessing inappropriate touching by Backman, but "almost all of them told detectives about other inappropriate comments and conduct by him.GÇ¥
Several of the girls told detectives Backman would engage them in the game "Cards Against Humanity,GÇ¥ which is known for its mature content. They told detectives Backman played the game with girls ages 11-16, and would regularly play sexually explicit cards during the game.
He allegedly instructed them not to tell their parents about the game and told them to put the cards away quickly if his wife ever entered the studio during a game.
According to documents, multiple girls said Backman would make inappropriate, sexual comments, including joking about "which one of them would lose their virginity first.GÇ¥
Drug use was also a topic of discussion, according to documents.
This isn't the first time Backman has been suspected of sexual conduct with a minor. Detectives from the Redmond Police Department conducted an investigation in 2008 based on allegations that Backman engaged in sexual activity with a 14-year-old student at the dance studio where he worked. The alleged abuse reportedly occurred in 2006, and was reported after the girl's mother found journal entries written by her daughter detailing the sexual activity, according to court documents.
The way the alleged sexual contact was initiated in Redmond mirrored the alleged events in Monroe. According to both victims, Backman engaged in inappropriate contact with them as they were stretching.
The former student, now 24 years old, told detectives she didn't try to stop Backman because, at the time, she had a crush on him. After the first alleged incident, she reported the situation continued to escalate. According to police documents, the student reported she and Backman left the studio together to have sexual intercourse on four separate occasions.
Rumors about him and the student surfaced, but both denied anything had happened. Backman left the studio in 2007. The case was declined by the King County Prosecutor's Office, partly because the alleged victim had denied sexual contact.
As part of his investigation, Detective Barry Hatch contacted the former student, who said she "knew this sort of phone call would happen eventually.GÇ¥ According to police documents, she told Hatch that, "based on her relationship with Backman and her observations of his interaction with other girls, she always suspected there would be victims after her.GÇ¥
She told Hatch she would assist with the prosecution in the current case if necessary.
Backman was arraigned on Thursday, appearing in court with defense attorney Natalya Forbes. Backman was ordered to have no unsupervised contact with minor children, and a sexual assault protection order was granted to prevent him from having any contact with the alleged victim.
A pretrial omnibus hearing was scheduled for Aug. 11. The trial is slated for Oct. 7.
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