A former volunteer swim coach at Ashland High School pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court to multiple counts of felony rape and sexual assault stemming from alleged abuse of a 14-year-old girl on the team.
Camren Michael Mitzel, 24, of Ashland, remains in jail on four counts of third-degree rape and four counts of second-degree sexual assault. His bail is set at $50,000. A pretrial hearing has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 24.
Mitzel is the son of the AHS swim team's head coach, Steve Mitzel, who was cited by police Friday for failure to report the alleged abuse. As a coach, he is mandated by the state to report suspected child abuse.
Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness said Monday he did not believe that the head coach was aware of his son's alleged conduct with the freshman student and that Steve Mitzel cooperated fully with Ashland police during the investigation.
Holderness said Camren Mitzel was charged with four counts of each alleged crime because "we can demonstrate there were four different acts" involving the victim that took place on or between Oct. 2, 2012, and March 31, 2013, which spans the swim season at Ashland High School.
The alleged crimes were reported to a separate agency, which then contacted APD to follow up with an investigation, police said.
A several-week APD investigation determined that "no force was used" between the alleged offender and the victim, according to an APD release.
Holderness said Wednesday that the "no force" phrasing was an attempt to explain the level of criminal charges filed against Mitzel.
"It was put like that specifically to explain the charges," he said.
Third-degree rape is defined as having sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16. Second-degree rape is having sexual intercourse with a person younger than 14. First-degree is rape is having sexual intercourse with a person younger than 12, or the "victim is subjected to forcible compulsion," according to state statutes. In Oregon, a person younger than 18 cannot legally give consent to have sex.
Child sex abuse experts have expressed concerns that the "no force" phrase, while descriptive of legal codes, may lead to a misunderstanding that any rape can be described as without force or that the victim holds some responsibility.
"We make no assumption of the guilt or innocence of the alleged offender in this particular case," said Randy Ellison, advocacy director for Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service. "However, there are many factors in child sexual abuse that come into play that may not seem like overt force.
"Children are never responsible for being abused in any form, no matter what the particular charges or circumstances are," Ellison said. To believe otherwise creates "victim blaming," Ellison said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.