Perry Upper Elementary School teacher Jeff Sullins made his first court appearance Thursday, pleading not guilty for failure to report child abuse in his classroom.
More than 20 girls have come forward so far, saying Sullins' teaching assistant Arnold Cowen molested them at school. Perry Upper Elementary is the same school where Judge Nikki Leach's daughter-in-law teaches, creating a list of concerns by prosecutors.
Sullins, a 5th grade math teacher, was silent as he walked into the Noble County courthouse, not answering questions about why he failed to call police when his students told him that 85-year-old Cowen touched them inappropriately many times, instead calling them liars, as court documents show. Likewise, he was quiet in the courtroom, where parents of some of the victims watched his attorney enter the not guilty plea to Leach.
District attorney Brian Hermanson filed a motion Wednesday, asking Leach to recuse himself, not only because his daughter-in-law is a 4th grade teacher at the school, but also because she is the one who recruited Cowen to work as an assistant there more than a decade ago. Hermanson also says Leach showed bias toward Sullins by not issuing an arrest warrant when the charges were filed.
Leach addressed the accusations in court and refused to recuse himself because he says his family's relationship to the school does not impact his decision making in the case. He also said that he chose to give the defendant time to turn himself in instead of sending police to find him, as he says he does in many cases.
The victims' parents were upset with the judge's stance as well as the fact that Sullins pleaded not guilty because they tell News 9 that plea means he is still calling the girls liars.
Sullins has his first pre-trial review April 24.
Perry Upper Elementary School principal Kenda Miller, who faces the same charges, has her first court appearance March 23.