SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. — A growing list of as many as 18 high school students has come forward in Pinal County to tell police how an 18-year-old forced himself on one teenaged girl after another here.
Tyler Kost, 18, repeatedly and forcefully sexually assaulted them by overpowering them, then manipulated them to gain their silence, according to Sheriff Paul Babeu and documents from his detectives.
One 15-year-old girl became pregnant and had an abortion. Two girls were so afraid and disturbed that they moved out of state, court documents state.
But Joey Hamby, Kost's defense lawyer, said Friday that Babeu is the one overpowering his client, judging him guilty before he is formally charged and damaging his ability to get a fair trial.
Judge Henry Gooday of Pinal County Superior Court rejected Hamby's request for removal of the sheriff's office from the case, for a change of venue and for a gag order, at least for the moment. The judge ordered Kost held without bond after finding the "proof is evident and the presumption is great'' that Kost committed a series of sex crimes stemming from his relationships with 10 victims.
The 10 teens all are willing to testify against Kost, Babeau said. As many as 18 are victims, and the investigation is continuing.
"This is a serious and serial sex offender and rapist,'' Babeu said, describing Kost as a charming manipulator who brutally intimidated his victims with threatening text messages, even telling one victim to kill herself.
Many of these victims not only said, 'No, no, no' as he forced off their bras and underwear, some of them ran from him.
"All of these victims knew him and befriended him. He cultivated a sense of trust,'' then violated that trust to obtain sexual gratification, the sheriff said.
A victim who moved out of state wrote on her Facebook page: "Tyler Kost didn't you learn no mean no. I told you over and over!!'' according to court documents. "Sick perv tried to get in my pants but I kicked him out of my home and dumped him because he didn't know no means no.
"I am sorry to anyone who was assaulted by this poor excuse of a man and I'm sorry I didn't say anything sooner,'' she wrote.
Some victims told detectives that they punched Kost when he made unwanted sexual advances and would not take no for an answer and that he punched them back. Others resigned themselves to the attack by relenting.
One said she dated Kost for months before she worked up the courage to break up with him.
Another victim moved out of state, no longer eats, has suicidal thoughts and has been harming herself by cutting her arms, the court document said.
Kost was arrested earlier this week on allegations related to a single student, but sheriff's investigators at the time said more than a dozen potential victims were subjected to sexual assault, abuse and unwanted contact with Kost.
Kost was released on a $10,000 bond following his arrest earlier this week and was re-arrested Thursday after some of the additional victims came forward.
Victims in the most recent court filing range in age from 14 to 17 and at least five of the assaults have taken place since February, Babeu said. The allegations date back for three years to when Kost was a juvenile.
But the sheriff also stated repeatedly that Kost, no matter what his age or the age of his victims, had committed crimes of violence against the girls and followed up with overt threats to keep them silent.
Kost knew the girls involved in the most recent allegations and dated several of them, Babeu said.
"He created an environment where he could coerce them into a direction they didn't want to go," Babeu said. "The age (of the victims) is only one factor. There was unwanted sexual advances and physical resistance."
"Many of these victims not only said, 'No, no, no' as he forced off their bras and underwear, some of them ran from him," Babeu said.
Many of the crimes Kost is alleged to have committed could have been avoided if earlier assaults had been reported sooner, but Babeu said parents were emotionally devastated, feeling that they had failed to protect their daughters and fearing the girls would be revictimized in court if the incidents were reported.
"That's always the case. Thank goodness they have found the courage now,'' the sheriff said.
The psychological coercion Kost used makes the delay in reporting the crimes understandable, Babeu said. The violence of the sex crimes was combined with text messages threatening the victims.
"It's because of the trauma and the subsequent threatening and intimidating," he said. Kost told his victims: "I'm going to make your life a living hell."
Our kids on this campus have done a great job at trying to unify and come together to make sure we heal.
Kost was formally suspended from Poston Butte High School here this week after his first arrest, but Florence Unified School District Superintendent Amy Fuller said Kost had been taking online classes since February after he came forward with his parents and claimed that some girls in the school were bullying him.
"He wasn't being bullied at all," Fuller said. "That's when the sheriff contacted us and said, 'Hey, this (crime) may be going on.' "
Babeu also dismissed the notion that girls at the school were targeting Kost, citing some of the text messages and other pieces of evidence in the case.
The victims delayed reporting the some of the sexual activity, which Babeu said would prevent prosecutors from having access to some types of physical evidence. But the text messages and social-media exchanges between Kost and some of the victims will be crucial to proving the allegations.
"Are these 18 women ganging up on this one guy? That's really extreme," the sheriff said. "We have evidence that shows he was saying certain things, that he was threatening to kill people."
Principal Tim Richard of Poston Butte High School, about 45 miles southeast of Phoenix, said the alleged crimes had caused some confusion and concern on campus this week. But students have taken to social media with a message of unification and support for the victims.
The school has about 1,700 students and Richard said the atmosphere has improved in the last year, from one where fights were almost a weekly occurrence to one where that kind of violence is rare.
"It's very saddening ... That there are victims of this crime here," he said. "Our kids on this campus have done a great job at trying to unify and come together to make sure we heal."
A crisis-response team was at the school Friday, providing additional counselors and school psychiatrists, and Fuller said the counselors would remain on campus for several days.