- Updated at 6:30 p.m. with information on settlement of sexual harassment case filed against Nielsen when he was the La Habra Heights fire chief.
Editor's Note: Court documents, reports and news releases have the accused last name spelled as both "Nielsen" and/or "Nielson."
A former dance instructor for the Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana -- who has also taught ballroom dance lessons to children and adults through the city of Cerritos and at in Artesia -- was arrested at his Cerritos home today on a warrant for misdemeanor child annoyance for allegedly sending sexually suggestive text messages to a 15-year-old girl.
John Juul Nielsen, 53, was arrested this morning and was booked at the Santa Ana city jail, with bail set at $15,000 bail, according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Nielsen started working at the high school part-time in September 2010 and was fired on Jan. 13, according to a school spokewoman.
“Be assured that the Orange County High School of the Arts takes all student safety issues very seriously and is fully cooperating with law enforcement, ''a school statement says. "It is our practice to investigate any concerns promptly and diligently, under the advice and assistance of law enforcement officers and legal counsel. Providing a safe environment for all our students and staff is a top priority for the Orange County High School of the Arts administration.''
Nielsen sent numerous text messages to the girl between Oct. 15 and Jan. 11, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office. The texts contained "revealing information about his personal life, including details about his current and past relationships,'' prosecutors allege.
Nielsen also accused of having "sexually inappropriate conversations'' with the girl and asking her for an “exclusive” dating relationship, according to the D.A.'s office and police.
School officials reported the case to police after other students became suspicious of the relationship between the defendant and victim.
“He stated that he fell in love with this 15-year-old and he was coming on to her'' in the text messages, Bertagna said. "So she went to him and said, 'Stop it.' He continued, so she confided in a friend, who went to a counselor, who investigated and notified school officials.''
"At the first reporting he was immediately placed on administrative leave and was terminated after we believed there was substance to the accusation," Cambria Morgan, a school spokeswoman, told the Orange County Register.
The married father of three could face up to a year in jail and be forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life if convicted.
Anyone with additional information or who believes they have been a victim is encouraged to contact Santa Ana police Det. Ed Zaragoza at (714) 245-8351 or Supervising District Attorney Investigator Carl Waddell at (714) 834-7538.
Nielsen Has Taught Ballroom Dance to Children in Artesia and Cerritos
Nielsen, the owner of Ballroom InterDance -- which rents dance space at in Artesia -- became a certified professional ballroom dance instructor with the Danish Dance Teacher Association in 1985, according to the studio's website. (See YouTube video in image carousel of Nielsen teaching students.)
He has also taught ballroom dance classes to children and adults through the city of Cerritos Recreation Services program. He and his students often participate in the Cerritos , most recently taking part in the festivities in 2011.
"He was an instructor for ballroom dance class (through the city) but he is no longer," Cerritos spokesperson Annie Hylton told Patch on Wednesday afternoon, adding that it was unclear when his employment as a dance teacher with the city began or ended.
Jerry Wu, Director of the dance program at Quest in Artesia, said the news of Nielsen's arrest was a complete shock.
"He's been here for quite a while and he works with city of Cerritos, he's tied in with the entire community, so that's why he was working here," he added. "My mind is kind of spinning right now. I did not see this coming and I never thought anything like this would happen."
Wu emphasized that Nielsen is not employed by Quest but did rent a space in their building for his dance classes.
"His company rented the space from us, so we in no way run their program ... I couldn't even tell you how their program is structured," Wu added.
After speaking to his supervisor about 5 p.m., Wu issued the following statement:
"We will no longer be working with him, he won't be here (at Quest) anymore. And though he rents a space from us, this is a serious situation and we take it very seriously."
InterDance's information on the Quest website has also been taken down, according to Wu.
Nielsen, Once Fire Chief at La Habra Heights, Has Been Accused of Sexual Harassment in Past
Though news of Nielsen's arrest comes as a shock to those in the Cerritos-Artesia area, a source close to the police investigation told Patch that the dance instructor has faced sexual harassment allegations in the past.
In addition to being a local dance instructor, Nielsen joined the La Habra Heights Fire Department as Fire Chief in October 2002 (click here to see Nielsen speaking as Fire Chief at a 2006 council meeting), but suddenly resigned from his post in early December 2008 -- less than a month after former Paramedic Coordinator Sabraina Somma filed a lawsuit against the city of La Habra Heights, Fire Chief John J. Nielsen and (her supervisor at the time) Ken Hill alleging repeated sexual/gender harassment and discrimination, libelous comments by Nielsen.
In a portion of the complaint, which was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court -- Central District on Nov. 19, 2008, Somma alleges that:
Nielsen stated to her, "Sabrina, I am sorry all the times I have made you feel bad, I will make up for that in the future, by making you feel good and comfetable [sic] with me, I promise you I can make you feel like you have never felt before. LOVE ME."
The complaint also states that Nielsen "repeatedly discussed his private life and sexual activity with Plaintiff," adding that he propositioned Somma to meet him at a hotel room.
The Plaintiff stated that despite her requests for him to stop, Nielsen's hostile sexual behavior continued through the termination of her employment in Feb. 2008, when she was forced to resign.
When Nielsen stepped down as fire chief in late 2008, La Habra Heights City Manager Shauna Clark said he gave no reason why he left his post, according to the Whittier Daily News.
The parties involved in the legal mater eventually signed a confidential Settlement Agreement dated August 31, 2009, releasing all claims with no admission of liability, according to a court document provided to Patch by LaHabraHeights.net. The city's insurance company (California Joint Powers Insurance Agency) also issued a settlement payment of $375,000 to the Plaintiff.
- City News Service contributed to a portion of this report.
Full disclosure: Patch editor MarieSam Sanchez's daughter was a student in Nielsen's ballroom dance class through the city of Cerritos' Recreation Services program in 2007.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS SECTION:
DO YOU KNOW ANYONE WHO WAS TAUGHT BY DANCE INSTRUCTOR JOHN NIELSEN? SHOULD A PERSON BE ALLOWED TO TEACH CHILDREN IF THEY'VE HAD A SEXUAL HARASSMENT SUIT FILED AGAINST THEM IN THE PAST?