Berkley man, former teacher, faces criminal sexual conduct, other charges involving students

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published June 7, 2021

 Jason Debandt

Jason Debandt

BERKLEY — A Berkley man and former teacher at a high school in Livonia has been charged in 44th District Court with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and distributing sexually explicit material to a minor for actions that allegedly occurred at his Berkley home.

Jason Debandt, 42, has been under investigation since September after at least eight former students of his at Clarenceville High School in Livonia came forward with allegations of criminal sexual conduct. According to the Berkley Public Safety Department, it became involved when two of those students alleged that sexual acts by Debandt were committed at his Berkley home.

Berkley Public Safety Detective Lt. Andrew Hadfield said the alleged crimes took place between 2013 and 2016. From the department’s investigation and the Livonia Police Department’s investigation, Debandt, who most recently was a teacher at North Farmington High School, allegedly groomed students when he met them in his classroom.

“Grooming,” as defined by the American Bar Association, is “a method used by offenders that involves building trust with a child and the adults around a child in an effort to gain access to and time alone with her/him. In extreme cases, offenders may use threats and physical force to sexually assault or abuse a child. More common, though, are subtle approaches designed to build relationships with families.”

Hadfield said Debandt would begin grooming students by providing them with his phone number and Snapchat account, as well as buying them gifts.

“As the teacher, he would find ways to comfort them and have them do small errands, including going to stores to pick up coffee or to help him out with little projects,” Hadfield said. “One of the cases turned into him having them help clean his home that was located in Berkley. After several visits to his home, it started turning into a closer relationship where he would invite them to stay for movies and he would also exchange text messages, Snapchat messages, with them.”

After a period of time, Debandt’s interactions with these students allegedly moved into a stage of flirting, sharing nude photos and videos of himself, and requesting the same from the girls and, eventually, sexual contact, police said.

According to one of the reports filed by the Berkley Public Safety Department, one of the teens told police that Debandt would have “conversations with her about marriage and vacations and made it seem as if they could be together as she got older.”

“Most of this would occur over the time frame of over a year or two of getting to know the girls, and (Debandt) would slowly make sexual advances toward them,” Hadfield said. “And at that point, it progressed into further actions that were alleged.”

In September, one woman came forward to the Livonia Police Department with her allegations. After she revealed her alleged relationship with Debandt on social media, other former students of his came forward with similar stories, police said.

Two of the women were identified as having visited his home in Berkley. Hadfield said the women were 16-17 years old at the time of the incidents.

The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office issued one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of distributing sexually explicit material to a minor against Debandt on May 25. He was arraigned in the 44th District Court May 28. His next court date is a probable cause conference scheduled for June 11.

Hadfield said Debandt faced one count of criminal sexual conduct because only one of the teens was a student at the time that the sexual acts occurred.

His attorney, Steven Vitale, asked the public to presume his client is innocent unless proven guilty.

“I’m very much looking forward to his day in court and proving that he’s innocent,” he said.