The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office confirms it referred text messages between a school principal and a now-arrested teacher to the district attorney’s office for consideration of possible prosecution, but the DA declined to press charges.
The text messages, first uncovered by Denver7 Investigates, detail an apparent friendship between Douglas County High School principal Tony Kappas and former English teacher and softball coach Brian Stebbins.
The sheriff’s office arrested Stebbins in June over allegations he exchanged sexually explicit photos and videos with a minor student – allegations Stebbins reportedly admitted to in an interview with sheriff’s investigators.
The text exchanges, obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request for messages on the principal’s school district-issued phone, were all sent prior to the teacher's arrest during the months he spent on administrative leave while the sheriff's office investigated the allegations.
The principal wrote of “playing phone tag” with the sheriff’s detective investigating the case, writing he intended to update Stebbins with the information he learned from the investigator.
“It's clear by reading the texts that they're friends,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said. “It seems like the principal’s friendship with the coach may have leaked into some of the decision making.”
Text messages reviewed by investigators, prosecutors, and school district
Sheriff Spurlock confirmed his office sought the Kappas records from the district after reviewing the texts obtained by Denver7 Investigates. The sheriff said he was bothered by the knowledge Kappas sought details about the case from investigators.
“I don't think it's appropriate,” Spurlock said. “I wouldn’t have done it, but I'm not the principal, and I don't think the principal knew the whole story.”
The records show Kappas texted Stebbins multiple times to say he was seeking information about the investigation from the sheriff's office.
“Playing phone tag with the detective. No new news at this point,” Kappas wrote on March 31. “I will let you know if and when I hear anything else.”
On April 2, Kappas wrote, “I left multiple messages with the detective and played phone tag until late into Friday night. So I’m hoping something breaks tomorrow.”
And on April 5, he wrote that the district had made multiple contacts with the sheriff's office, adding, "We are more than perplexed with the situation and the timeliness of this issue."
The school district’s interim superintendent said she reviewed all the text messages and said it appeared to her the principal’s primary motivation was making sure Stebbins’ AP English students would be prepared for their upcoming exam despite the sudden absence of their teacher.
The sheriff said his office shared the messages with the office of 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. A representative for the district attorney’s office confirmed prosecutors declined to pursue charges.
“Our concern was that they tried to obstruct us,” Sheriff Spurlock said. “And the totality of the circumstances were that we didn't feel that they did … they didn't get in the way and they didn't interfere with us gathering any information.”
Spurlock confirmed that Kappas did call investigators for information, but because investigators did not reveal anything privileged when he called, they did not believe Kappas could have relayed anything of consequence to Stebbins.
The district declined to say whether the principal would be disciplined for the texts he sent, calling it a private personnel matter.
Douglas County Schools also declined to make Kappas available for an interview, citing the ongoing criminal case against Stebbins.
Brian Stebbins also declined to answer questions after a court appearance on Sep. 14.
He waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is set to be arraigned on Oct. 23. Court records show he has not yet entered a plea in the case.