BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Inmates erupted in anger and disbelief upon hearing a former teacher accused of sending inappropriate messages to a teen girl would be sentenced to 16 months in prison — and has spent enough time in custody to be released immediately.
Multiple inmates swore and yelled in Department 14 of Kern County Superior Court Wednesday morning, apparently outraged Kyle Puette didn’t receive a lengthier sentence, prompting deputies and the judge to call for silence.
Puette, who taught at Louise Sandrini Elementary School from 2013 to 2017, stood quietly. He ignored further remarks as deputies led him from the courtroom.
Zulfa ordered Puette to register as a sex offender and issued a 10-year restraining order barring him from contacting the victim.
Last month, Puette, 38, pleaded no contest to exhibiting harmful matter to a minor. Seven other felonies were dismissed. It is not alleged he had physical contact with the girl.
Kyle J. Humphrey, Puette’s attorney, said he understands how other inmates view his client. But he said most of the people he represents in theses types of cases — including Puette — are at little risk to reoffend, and can be treated through psychotherapy.
“Unlike many of those inmates who get upset, my clients have committed no other crimes,” Humphrey said.
Puette has no prior criminal record.
Humphrey said Puette felt relief when he was caught, regrets his actions and has apologized.
“If you’re walking down an alley at night, I think you’re better off running into my client, not those other inmates,” the attorney said.
Before sentencing, a victim advocate read a lengthy statement written by a girl whom Puette initially contacted on social media in 2019, when she was 14. Her name was not given in court, and it’s the policy of 17 News to not identify victims of sex-related offenses unless they give permission.
Her life hasn’t been the same since, the girl wrote. She described multiple messages from Puette, saying he became more aggressive when he reached out to her again in 2020.
“He was a teacher,” she wrote. “Someone you should be able to trust. But he ruined that perspective for me.”
The girl wrote she has isolated herself from family and friends. She feels shame and guilt, and changed her appearance so she no longer looks like the teen who attracted Puette’s attention.
She’s haunted by the girl she used to be, she wrote, knowing that person is gone forever.
As the hearing ended, Zulfa told Puette he hoped he paid close attention to the girl’s statement.
“You took someone’s childhood,” the judge said, “and they can never get that back.”
Puette was arrested in April of last year in Valley Center in San Diego County. A laptop, iPhone and iPad were seized from his home.
He was employed at Valley Center Elementary School at the time of his arrest.