By JASON BOOTHE
Former local football coach Billy Gardner pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years of supervised probation Tuesday by Washington County Circuit Judge Perry Newton for transmitting obscene material.
Under the plea agreement, Gardner is also required by law to register as a sex offender. Gardner got a 10-year prison sentence for a class B felony but the amended agreement resulted in a reverse split sentence with three years of supervised probation. Gardner cannot have contact with the victim or the victim’s family and could get six months in jail at the discretion of the court if he violates terms of the probation agreement.
Gardner was indicted by a Washington County grand jury on Aug. 25, 2022. The indictment charged Gardner with using a computer to transmit material depicting actual or simulated nudity, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse to initiate or engage in sexual acts with a child.
Gardner, who was 45 at the time, was arrested April 30, 2021, booked into the Washington County Jail and released on $40,000 bond the same day, according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
On the day of Gardner’s arrest, Washington County Sheriff’s Office chief investigator Blake Richardson and former Citronelle police chief Tyler Norris and other law enforcement agents executed a search warrant at Gardner’s Turnerville residence. Norris said the search uncovered inappropriate photos on numerous devices.
According to Richardson and Norris, officers with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations served arrest and search warrants at Gardner’s residence. Richardson said electronic devices retrieved from Gardner’s bedroom included approximately eight cell phones, numerous data-storage devices and computers.
Richardson said he began investigating Gardner after being contacted earlier in the year by the father of a 15-year-old Leroy High student who told investigators he believed Gardner had been sending his daughter inappropriate messages via cell phone text messages.
Richardson said he confirmed the parent’s suspicions, leading to him to charge Gardner withsolicitation of a child and distributing obscene images to a child.
Based on data retrieved from the seized electronic devices, Richardson said he believed Gardner began an inappropriate relationship with the alleged victim when he taught her as a sixth-grader at Leroy, when she was approximately 12.
Richardson also said the investigation uncovered information that indicated Gardner had been removed from classrooms at Citronelle, Millry and Leroy high schools due to alleged inappropriate behavior. Richardson said Gardner was removed from Leroy in 2018, asked to surrender his teaching certificate and left the profession.
Following Gardner’s arrest, Richardson said he received more reports from alleged victims in Mobile and Washington counties. Richardson said at least two of them were now adults and both said Gardner had a relationship with them when they were teenagers.
Gardner began his teaching and coaching career in 1999 at Citronelle. During the next 19 years he also taught and coached at Satsuma, Baldwin County, Jackson, Millry, Chickasaw and Leroy high schools.