Judge rejects bus driver’s plea agreement, lets jury decide
After receiving numerous complaints by concerned citizens through social media postings and calls made to the Lake County Clerk of District Court, District Judge Kim Christopher rejected the plea agreement for a former St. Ignatius school bus driver and bus owner who was charged with dealing methamphetamine.
During a change of plea hearing Sept. 27, Scott William Johnson, 55, pled guilty to a single count of felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs. Additional felony counts of endangering the welfare of children and criminal distribution of dangerous drugs were to be dismissed as part of the plea agreement, which called for sentencing to be deferred for three years.
According to charging documents, Johnson had exposed school bus passengers to methamphetamine through his involvement in drug activity. He was arrested on May 25 after a months-long investigation.
Lake County deputies involved in the investigation interviewed an unidentified “citizens informant” who indicated they had purchased methamphetamine from Johnson a week prior to his arrest in exchange for cash and sexual services. The informant also stated they smoked meth in the bus barn and in the school’s blue and white “sports bus” and other buses.
Johnson’s attorney, Britt Cotter, objected to the citizen complaints saying they were based on a news article and not facts presented in court and that this is nothing more than a simple possession case.
Lake County Chief Deputy Attorney James Lapotka said initially there was probable cause to file the three charges but more investigating showed the state would have “substantial problems” at trial proving the charges that were to be dismissed. He also said “Mr. Cotter will have a field day cross-examining” the state’s confidential informant whose credibility would be called into question.
Christopher opted to leave it up to a 12-person jury to decide and re-set the case for trial without a date and set a pre-trial hearing for Feb. 21, 2019. Cotter indicated to the court his intention to enter a motion to disqualify Christopher from presiding over the case.
During the change of plea hearing in September, Johnson presented the court with a check in the amount of $11,765 to pay for any clean-up costs incurred by the St. Ignatius School District. Johnson also presented proof that he voluntarily and successfully completed a 28-day drug treatment program satisfying a concern of the court.