Ex-North drama coach to plead guilty to child solicitation | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

John Johnson has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of Level 5 felony child seduction stemming from his arrest late last year at Wal-Mart in North Vernon. Authorities say he had arranged to meet a person he believed was a minor for sex.

JENNINGS COUNTY — A former Columbus North High School employee arrested in November after he was accused of trying to arrange a sexual encounter with a person he believed was a 14-year-old boy will plead guilty to a reduced felony count to resolve his criminal case.

John W. Johnson, 52, was charged late last year with a single count of Level 4 felony child solicitation after he was arrested by officers with the Jennings County Sheriff’s Office. Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. fired Johnson after learning of his arrest. He had been employed as auditorium director and a drama coach.

Johnson’s arrest stemmed from a Predator Catchers Indianapolis (PCI) sting operation conducted on the dating app Grindr and other messaging platforms. PCI president Eric Schmutte set up a fictitious profile on the app posing as a 14-year-old boy who had been communicating with a man using the name Joe.

Court documents say Schmutte, posing as a minor, arranged to meet Joe at the North Vernon Walmart Supercenter to go somewhere for a sexual encounter. Video of the encounter where Schmutte met and confronted Johnson was livestreamed online and officers who had been informed of the situation arrested Johnson near the store’s entrance as he left the store.

According to court documents filed earlier this month, the charging information against was amended to reduce the charge from a Level 4 felony to a Level 5 felony count, which is punishable by one to six years in prison. However, courts have discretion at sentencing to forgo time behind bars and impose conditions such as work release, home detention or probation.

Johnson’s defense attorney, Russell Johnson of Franklin (no relation), confirmed Monday that John Johnson will plead guilty to the Level 5 felony count of child seduction, and that a plea agreement has been negotiated with prosecutors. The defense attorney declined further comment.

Shortly after the charge was reduced, Johnson filed a request to set a plea hearing, noting “parties have reached an agreed resolution” and that Johnson “requests that this matter be set for plea and sentencing hearing and a presentence investigation report be conducted.”

Jennings Circuit Judge Murielle Bright ordered a presentencing report be conducted and set a plea and sentencing hearing for 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 17 at the courthouse in Vernon, voiding a trial date that had been scheduled for Nov. 13.

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