County prosecutors have filed three additional criminal charges against a former drama teacher at Rio Rico High School, alleging that he assaulted a minor under 15 with sexual motivation.

Joseph Edward Ellison, 27, now faces 25 total charges accusing him of assaulting three different victims.

The County Attorney’s Office initially charged Ellison on July 23 with 22 misdemeanor counts of assault with sexual motivation, alleging that he licked and/or bit the necks of two people of unspecified age, and that he licked the arm of one of the victims, and kissed the head of another.

The three new assault charges, filed at Nogales Justice Court on Sept. 7, are Class 6 felonies that reportedly occurred between February and May 2021. The County Attorney’s Office accuses Ellison of biting a third victim’s finger, licking their face and grabbing/pulling their arms.

Ellison’s court-appointed lawyer did not return a message seeking comment on Thursday.

Ellison was booked into the county jail on July 20, a week after the Sheriff’s Office received a call from a school resource officer who said the RRHS principal wanted to “make a mandatory report on a teacher.” The call was classified as assault, though it didn’t specify if it involved Ellison.

The charges against Ellison do not say where the alleged offenses took place.

As of Thursday, Ellison remained in custody at the county jail with cash bond set at $10,000, according to Lt. Raoul Rodriguez, the jail commander.

The Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District has declined to comment on the matter, but the school board voted 3-2 on July 27, without public discussion, to release Ellison from his contract and waive liquidated damages of $3,000. Ellison had been at RRHS since the 2017-2018 academic year.

In December 2020, Ellison was named the winner of the Arizona Thespians Teacher of the Year Award for the south region. Earlier this year, he was selected as the RRHS nominee for the 2021 Santa Cruz County Teacher of the Year award, sponsored by the County Superintendent of Schools Office and the Nogales Rotary Club. 

Court records show that Ellison’s next court hearing is set for Sept. 15.

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