The police investigation which resulted in a former Bainbridge High School coach being charged with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor, after she allegedly had a romantic relationship with a student athlete, has revealed a picture of a lengthy and conspicuous affair that had previously been noticed many who knew the woman.
Nicole Elizabeth Hebner, 35, appeared before Superior Court Judge Sally F. Olsen in late August, and entered a plea of “not guilty.” She had been charged with felony first-degree sexual misconduct earlier that month, and was promptly released on her own recognizance following the quick proceedings.
Her trial has been scheduled for early January.
According to police reports, from approximately June 2015 through June 2016 Hebner, while working at BHS as a teacher and coach, engaged in a romantic, sexual relationship with a student who played on “at least two” of the teams she coached.
Though the younger woman was 18 years old at the time, Hebner’s position as a school employee, her being “15 years older” than the student, and their not being married, were sufficient legal grounds for the charge.
Though the illicit relationship — which the student later told police was consensual — first officially came to the attention of authorities in July 2016 in light of statements Hebner made to colleagues and friends about “an inappropriate relationship” she was engaged in with a student, police found the former coach’s behavior around, and the amount of time she spent with, the younger woman had been eyed warily by many — including Hebner’s male fiancé — even before then.
According to police records obtained through a public records request by the Review, in July 2016 Hebner contacted several of her friends and colleagues and said she’d had an “inappropriate relationship” with a student. Several witnesses eventually told police the two women had “spent a lot of time together.”
Clues on phone
Upon being contacted by police, the former student gave permission for her phone to be examined and provided the security code. Forensic investigation of the device showed numerous texts between her and Hebner, many relating to getting together, meeting places, and Hebner giving her rides.
There were also photos and videos showing the two of them together, some of which appeared to be inside Hebner’s home, according to police records.
The younger woman described in great detail the sexual acts which she and Hebner had engaged in together, and told police that Hebner was “unhappy in her relationship with her fiancé,” and wanted to leave him and live with her.
She said the plan was for them to live together after the she completed college.
The former student had known Hebner for about eight years, she said. Their initial relationship was of a “mother-daughter” type.
It turned sexual in the summer of 2015, she said.
“Nicole let me know how she had felt in the beginning of summer,” the student said. At which time, she told police, she confessed to Hebner that she felt the same way.
During the investigation, the younger woman told police about Hebner giving her money to buy a car. She said Hebner gave her $1,000 — and that Hebner’s fiance also gave her $1,000 — to purchase a car. The vehicle cost $2,600, the final $600 of which she provided herself.
Though she said she believed the man did not know about the actual nature of her and Hebner’s relationship, police found that the amount of time the younger woman spent at their house did not go unnoticed by Hebner’s fiance.
The relationship progressed regardless, the student said, until she was contacted by police following Hebner’s confession to friends in 2016.
She said Hebner had been “very paranoid” and was worried that if people found out about their relationship it could affect her job.
In a discussion with a friend and colleague of Hebner, Liz McCloskey, another BHS coach, police learned McCloskey had previously spoken with Hebner about the amount of time she spent with the younger woman — a discussion which included Hebner’s fiancé.
McCloskey said she thought Hebner had been mentoring the younger woman, but felt the student was “consuming” all of Hebner’s time, more than was appropriate for a typical student/teacher relationship. McCloskey even met with Hebner and her fiancé to discuss the matter.
The man agreed, McCloskey said, and declared he would not allow the student at their house as often in the future.
Then, around July 13, McCloskey said Hebner called her. She was very upset and “needed to talk,” telling McCloskey she was in “legal trouble” for having an inappropriate relationship with a student.
Around the same time, Hebner called another BHS colleague, Ian Havill, who later told police Hebner had called to apologize to him and his family. When he said he didn’t know what was going on, Hebner told him, “I never meant to hurt anybody. You will find out soon enough.”
Havill said he’d known Hebner for five or six years. They had coached together at BHS, his daughters had played basketball on Hebner’s team, and for the last three of four years, he said, he’d kept the trailer for his boat at Hebner’s house.
Though he’d noticed the time Hebner spent with the younger woman, Havill said he thought Hebner and her fiancé were “being generous” to the student.
The younger woman’s parents were also concerned about the time she spent with Hebner.
In a statement made to investigators, they outlined the ways in which Hebner had allegedly manipulated the girl’s feelings.
“Nicole’s interaction with [our daughter] was different than how she interacted with anybody else on the softball team,” they wrote. “It could be characterized as how a big sister acts towards a little sister.”
It wasn’t until the younger woman became involved with a man, during her junior year, that her parents became concerned about the amount of influence the coach had over their daughter.
“The man … was an x-gang member and had questionable character according to us (opinion),” the statement read. “[She] informed us that Nicole was very upset about her relationship and told [her] that Nicole would not be her friend unless [she] left [the man].”
The younger woman complied, the statement said, “leaving [her] in a very vulnerable state of mind.”
As she became more withdrawn, and began spending less and less time at home, the girl’s parents contacted Hebner seeking advice.
“I … contacted Nicole on several occasions to make her aware of problems we were having with [her] to seek her advice, knowing that she and Nicole were close friends,” the statement read. “I told [our daughter] that I was going to call the school (BHS) the next day to tell them that she was addicted to Nicole Hebner and Nicole talked me out of it when [my daughter] told her. Something didn’t feel right.”
Gifts from the coach
The girl often had expensive athletic gear, a new laptop, perfume, gift cards to Starbucks and Victoria’s Secret, headbands and earrings very similar in style to those favored by Hebner, and she would return home with leftovers from many dinners out, her parents said. All this, despite having no source of income.
The girl often came home late, telling her parents she’d been at Hebner’s house working on school assignments.
Both parents were out of town for about five months then, from October 2015 to March 2016, working on a home renovation project.
“The reason I left was because [our daughter] was NEVER at home,” the statement said. “I saw her twice for dinner the entire month of September 2016. She was always at Nicole’s or away at a soccer game. She was capable of taking care of herself, I thought. She was 19. I went to Bellingham for what I thought would be one week and it turned into six months that I remained there.”
One particularly flagrant demonstration of the couple’s affections occurred during the BHS prom in 2016. The younger woman abandoned her male date to leave early and spend the night at Hebner’s house. She later sent her date video messages via the social media service Snapchat, he told police, in which she told him about her relationship with the coach.
She also told the young man Hebner seemed “scared about what would happen” if someone found out about the relationship.
The jilted date provided police with texts between himself and the young woman in which she discussed her previous sexual partners, heavily alluding to Hebner being one of them, a fact which did not surprise her fellow student.
“If I tell you you have to promise you won’t tell,” the younger woman texted, in response to the man’s inquiry about a previously unnamed third partner she’d mentioned in an earlier text.
“Absolutely,” he texted back. “You have my word.”
She then told him that her third partner was “a girl,” to which he said homosexual relationships “don’t bother me.”
The young woman then texted a hint: “Who do I spend my time with!!??? Don’t write it in a text, but that is who I am with.”
When her former prom date wrote back, “I figured,” the younger woman asked, “You knew?”
He texted back: “Omg it’s [expletive] obvious lol.”
In a statement to police, the girl’s parents revealed that though she’d never had a job “which lasted more than a week or two” the former student “went to Kay Jewelers and opened an account to purchase an infinity necklace which she gave to Nicole.
“The account still has about $600 owed on it although again [she] has no income,” they wrote. “Perhaps Nicole started paying it off.”
Police records indicate the student had been very adamant in her desire to speak with the former coach, even in the early stages of the investigation.
She emailed police in December 2016, identifying herself as “the student” involved with Hebner and asking to speak with someone about the case. She wrote, “I just want to be able to see her again and to know when I can see her.”
The younger woman was provided a case update by police, according to reports.
Then, later that month, she again contacted police asking when the case would be completed. She wrote, “I just want to be able to talk to her and see her.”
On Jan. 14, 2017, the former student again emailed police asking how much longer the case would take to wrap up.
Hebner’s contact with the student has been under investigation since last summer.
During the August court appearance, however, Hebner’s lawyer alleged that while Hebner had been adamantly adhering to the legal order to avoid all contact with the younger woman, the former student had been obsessively attempting to contact Hebner by phone and email.