A state district judicial candidate in Travis County was accused by a 16-year-old foreign exchange student of having sex with him while he stayed in her home — an accusation that the candidate, Chantal Eldridge, denies.
Eldridge, a criminal defense lawyer who is running to be judge of the 331st Criminal District Court, was investigated by Austin police for several months after the student’s outcry in 2006, according to interviews and a police report reviewed by the American-Statesman.
The foreign exchange student, who is now 27 and living in his native Brazil, said he and Eldridge had an encounter that started with a night of playing poker and ended in his bedroom at Eldridge’s house in Southwest Austin, the report says.
Within days, he made an outcry to the company that placed him with Eldridge and her son, who she says was 8 at the time. The company removed him from Eldridge’s home and alerted police.
The case resulted in no charges against Eldridge, who was 42. She denies any wrongdoing.
The student’s allegation triggered an investigation by child-abuse detectives that spanned about three months, according to the police report. The investigation included unsuccessful efforts by police to record conversations between the two, interviews with the accuser and Eldridge, and Eldridge’s offer to take a polygraph test in exchange for police halting the investigation if she passed, the report says.
In the end, prosecutors declined to go forward with the case, in part because the teen returned to Brazil.
In an interview with the American-Statesman, Eldridge said the teen’s outcry came after he had a “temper tantrum” at her house that focused on his use of a computer in her home. The teen also told police that she threatened to report him for drinking alcohol in violation of the program’s rules.
“I was telling him what to do, and he didn’t want me telling him what to do,” Eldridge said.
The police report says Eldridge confirmed to investigators at the time that the two had played poker, but she told the Statesman that she did not recall that.
Eldridge, who narrowly lost a district judge race in 2016 and has received multiple endorsements in her latest Democratic primary race, said in a recent interview that she was “able to successfully present physical evidence that this was false.”
She said that she told police of an abnormality on her body and that the teen had no knowledge of it when investigators questioned him about it.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s B.S.,” she said. “I gave independent medical proof that there was nothing.”
She added that had officials thought the teen’s allegations were credible, the authorities would have filed charges against her.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, who reviewed the case file, said this week: “According to our records, prosecution was declined because the victim had returned to Brazil and the issue regarding (Eldridge’s physical trait) could not be resolved.”
Investigators consulted with Eldridge’s doctor, according to police records reviewed by the Statesman, and the police concluded that the physical abnormality “did not appear to be as obvious as Eldridge described it. At this time, it is unclear whether (it) is large enough to be noticed.”
Details of the investigation of Eldridge have emerged as she campaigns against another Democrat, incumbent David Crain, in the primary election. In her 2016 race, Eldridge took 47 percent of the vote as she ran against another attorney for an open seat in the state’s district criminal courts.
Eldridge’s accuser agreed to discuss the matter with the Statesman when contacted in Brazil. He said he has had no discussions with Eldridge in the years since.
“I was very naive at the time,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it, but … I was a teenager. I didn’t know what to do.”
His description of the encounter to the Statesman was similar to what he told police 12 years ago. In keeping with its practice of not identifying alleged victims of sexual assault, the Statesman is not publishing his name.
He said Eldridge asked him to teach her how to play poker. He said they had been playing about 30 minutes when she brought up the idea of playing strip poker.
He said they continued to play until they were both naked and eventually went to his bedroom and had sex, details that are also included in the police report.
The accuser said the two had a fight after he expressed his discomfort. The police report reviewed by the Statesman said the two had a heated argument and said Eldridge called the placement company and told officials there that the teen was angry and was packing his belongings.
When the teen was told by a company employee that he could not leave, he made the claims of inappropriate sexual contact, the document states.
The teen went to live in Cedar Park for two weeks with Jodie Goldberg and her family. During that time, she took him to police for a three-hour interview, she recalled.
“When he first got to us, he was very upset,” Goldberg said. “He was just glad to be out of there.”
She said the teen told another foreign exchange student who was living in her home about what happened: “He and I also had discussions about it, but I don’t know how much detail I got from him and how much I got from my foreign-exchange student. I know he confirmed to me, yes, they had intercourse. We totally believed him. There was not a doubt.”
The teen worked with police to try to get Eldridge to participate in a “pretext” phone call that investigators would record in case she said anything incriminating, according to a police report. Eldridge never answered, and at one point, the teen’s father ordered him to have no further contact with her, which police say hindered their efforts to gain additional evidence, the police report says.
“He was very much wanting to help the police get her on the phone admitting to it,” said Goldberg, who said she sat outside the police interview room.
When Goldberg saw Eldridge was running for judge in 2016, she sent the foreign exchange placement agency an email expressing concern.
An employee responded with an email that has been reviewed by the Statesman, saying that she remembered the teen’s outcry at the time and that the agency had banned Eldridge.