Former ISVI instructor found not guilty in bench trial

By Gary Scott on May 13, 2015 at 1:18pm

A former instructor at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired arrested for alleged improper conduct with a student has been cleared of charges.

Twenty-nine-year-old James Strader Jr. was found “not guilty” of disorderly conduct yesterday in Morgan County Court by Circuit Judge Chris Reif following a bench trial that took place late last month.

Following arguments on April 28th, defense attorneys for Strader and prosecutors were given an additional week to provide case law and argument to support their position.

Strader was employed at the school for about six months as a rehabilitation and mobility instructor.

Testimony during the bench trial was given by Linda Smith, an ISVI employee who said she first observed Strader with a 17-year-old female student last December in Strader’s office.

Initially, according to testimony, the two were holding hands, but when Smith returned to the office with another employee, she saw the two kissing.

Based on the evidence, Morgan County State’s Attorney Bobby Bonjean argued that the state met the elements of disorderly conduct, but he says he knew going into the trial that there might have been difficulty proving “breach of the peace.”

“There’s no pure definition either in the statute or in case law defining what a breach of the peace is. There’s certainly different examples of what a breach in the peace could be, but obviously, this was kind of a unique fact-scenario,” he says.

“There aren’t any prior cases that have this exact fact-scenario, so based on what the facts are out there, the judge didn’t believe that the evidence we presented reached the level of breach of peace, and without proving breach of the peace, we can’t obviously get disorderly conduct,” Bonjean adds.

Strader was initially arrested by Illinois State Police in December for aggravated criminal sexual abuse, but a month later, those charges were downgraded.

“Based on Ms. Smith’s reaction, being alarmed, disturbed, and troubled and feeling that was offensive behavior for an employee/teacher-instructor to be involved in that kind of behavior with a student, that’s why we went forward with the disorderly conduct charge,” says Bonjean.

In his docket order, Reif said the state did not provide any evidence that actions taken by Strader that lead to his arrest were “anything other than legal”. Reif concluded, and Strader’s attorney James Elmore argued, that no breach of peace was proven to have occurred.