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Cherokee band teacher arrested for sexual exploitation of studentStudent felt he was being ‘groomed’ into relationship

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A band teacher at Cherokee was arrested for allegedly “inserting himself” in a student’s sexual life from August 2022 to May 2023. 

Joseph Vannatta, 46, was booked into Cherokee County Jail on Tuesday for sexual exploitation by a school employee, a class D felony. Vannatta allegedly schemed to be inside a student’s sexual life, according to an affidavit filed by Cherokee police, which cites an investigation that was initiated last April.

Vannatta allegedly asked sexually charged questions to the student over the course of nine months, the affidavit alleges. He intended to maintain daily contact with the student via social media, or a “streak” as defined by Snapchat. Vannatta allegedly offered his home on Clark Street so the student and the student’s boyfriend could “nap” in his bedroom while Vannatta and his family were in the basement.

Vannatta allegedly offered extra credit to the student to perform in an honor band. No extra credit was given, but the student went to the event anyway, according to the affidavit. Vannatta was the only chaperone for the student “and a few girls,” the affidavit continues. 

“The scheme of conduct that Vannatta was doing with (the student) had led (the student) to feel that he was being groomed to have a relationship with (Vannatta),” the affidavit reads. 

No physical contact between the student and Vannatta was cited in the complaint. Sgt. Brett Gannon, the officer who filed the affidavit, told the Cherokee Chronicle Times “The charge is for sexual exploitation,” when asked about the nature of the alleged relationship between Vannatta and the student. Gannon noted the Iowa Attorney General’s Office will represent the state in the prosecution. Vannatta is expected to hire an attorney. He waived his right to court-appointed counsel on Tuesday. 

A preliminary hearing hasn’t been set yet. Supt. Tom Ryherd declined comment on the investigation. Vannatta is currently employed with Cherokee School District. Vannatta is still listed on the district’s staff directory. He was employed by the district in 2013.

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