ILWACO — A former Hilltop lunch lady is accused of making sexual advances toward a middle-school boy via cell phone and social media.
According to court and police documents, the Pacific County Prosecutor’s office on Sept. 25 charged Brittini R. Ford, 26, of Astoria, with one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes of a sexual nature, a Class C felony that carries a penalty of up to $10,000 and five years in prison.
Long Beach Police opened an investigation in early April, after staff and students alleged that Ford had acted inappropriately with students — in particular, with a boy who was 13 at the time. The investigation took several weeks. Meanwhile, Ford was terminated in the spring, when an independent Ocean Beach School District investigation found that Ford had repeatedly shown questionable judgment in her interactions with students, and had violated several district policies.
Ford, who is married to a member of the Coast Guard, began working for the district as a lunch aide at Long Beach Elementary, according to the Long Beach Police Department investigation report. In November 2016, she transferred to fill a vacant position at Hilltop, the district’s fifth through eighth-grade campus. In a police statement, former Intervention Specialist Sean Bresnahan said Ford’s primary duties were supervising lunch, recess and transitional periods during the day.
Local police and Coast Guard investigators found that Ford’s husband was not involved in the alleged misconduct.
Superintendent Jenny Risner did not respond to email and phone requests for comment.
Junk food, lollipops
Initially, staff members thought Ford’s friendly interactions with students were an appropriate attempt to build relationships. However, after Christmas break, staff said, she began acting more like a student than a staff member. Teachers told administrators Ford was shirking her duties and finding opportunities to spend time with students outside of her assignment areas, even pulling them out of class without permission on a few occasions.
By the end of January, Bresnahan said, “It was very clear that Brittini was having boundary issues with students.” Several teachers told him Ford made trips off-campus to buy fast food and junk food for a small group of mostly male students, and sometimes interrupted lessons to pass out treats.
Staff members thought Ford seemed to be taking a particular interest in the alleged victim and his best friend. In early 2017, she became an increasingly disruptive presence while “helping” one teacher in her classroom. The teacher said Ford often sat next to the two boys, loudly whispering with them during lessons. She complained to former Hilltop Principal Darin Adams in March, after Ford allegedly “spent the class on her phone, her feet up on the table and a lollipop in her mouth.” Staff also said they had witnessed Ford acting in a “flirtatious” manner with the two boys.
In early March, Bresnahan learned Ford had been spending “significant amounts of time” with the boys at her home on the Coast Guard base. A week later, Ford took the boys on an unauthorized trip to Warrenton in her personal vehicle during school hours. She was fired. Adams and Bresnahan began the internal investigation, and subsequently informed the police.
“It was rather clear [the victim] was being groomed by Brittini,” Officer Don Tardiff wrote in his report. At first, Tardiff said, the alleged victim mowed Ford’s lawn for pocket change, with his mother’s permission. However, in early spring, he and his friend began spending more time at her home, often playing video games and going on fast-food runs.
According to the boys, during at least one of these visits Ford allowed them to look at nude pictures of herself that she stored on her phone. According to the victim, she also allegedly allowed him to view a video of her dancing in the nude.
Disappearing messages, clothing
A turning point came when Ford allegedly urged the victim to download the Snapchat app on his phone. Snapchat is a message and picture-sharing tool that has a distinct advantage for teens who are trying to keep their social lives private — messages and pictures sent via the app disappear permanently after a short time. An unintended consequence is that adult predators use the app to communicate with minors, knowing their messages are unlikely to become evidence.
One night, shortly before she was fired, Ford allegedly texted the victim a message saying, “I’m bored,” and then allegedly proceeded to send him a photo of herself in panties, followed by three more “selfies” in increasing states of undress. The boy said she also requested photos of him, and offered to perform oral sex on him. He told investigators that he cut off contact with her after that.
Through her attorney Nicole Dalton, Ford invoked her Fifth Amendment rights, and did not grant police an interview.
Dalton did not respond to a request for comment.
Due in part to the fleeting nature of Snapchat communications, investigators were not able to secure photo or text evidence. However, prosecutor Mark McClain said the friend witnessed, or was aware of, each of these interactions. In interviews, the friend’s statements corroborated those of the victim and other parties. If the case goes to trial, he may be called as a witness.
The Prosecutor’s Office requested, but was not granted a warrant for Ford’s arrest. Instead, she was issued a summons to appear in Pacific County Superior Court on Oct. 20.