A 29-year-old teacher and track coach at Winona Senior High School, where he attended, is charged with sexual assault stemming from encounters with three female students.

Eric D. Birth, of Winona, was charged in Winona County District Court last week in three criminal complaints with four counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with encounters he allegedly had with the teenagers spanning from the summer of 2016 to April 2022.

Birth was arrested Feb. 15, posted bail and was released Friday ahead of a Thursday court date. His attorney, Christine Ledebuhr, declined to comment.

He was placed on administrative leave by the school district on Jan. 2, the same day that the first of his three accusers went to police. The charges say he began coaching at the high school in April 2016 and started teaching physical education there in August 2021.

"We understand that this news may be shocking and concerning to our school community," reads a statement the school district released in response. "Please know that all School District employees are subject to a thorough background check before being hired, and are also required to complete training to reinforce policy, procedure, and our legal requirements as mandatory reporters."

Birth graduated in 2013 from Winona High School, where he was captain of the football team. He went on to study and play at Winona State University for four seasons as a running back.

According to the complaints:

Police received an anonymous tip on June 1, 2023, that Birth was sexually involved with a student during her senior year. The student initially denied the allegations to police and said Birth was nothing more than her track coach. Police closed the case.

On Jan. 2, 2024, the student called an investigator and said she lied about the relationship. The next day, she told the investigator that in January 2022 she and a couple other girls would run before school to get ready for the upcoming track season.

She said Birth was in a Snapchat chat group with the girls, but then removed himself from that group and started texting with her. At times, she confided in him..

On April 24, 2022, a week after she turned 18, the student drove to a meetup location and got in Birth's vehicle. He started kissing her and forced her to perform a sex act on him.

A second student went to police on Jan. 18, 2024, and reported sexual encounters with Birth while he was her track coach. She also said she confided in him about issues in her life. She said the two of them flirted in texts during track season, and initiated a sexual relationship in the summer of 2016 that continued into the fall, when she was a 16-year-old senior.

A third student went to police on Jan. 31, 2024, and said she had sexual encounters with Birth in April and May of 2017, when she was 17 years old and on the track team. Like the other students, she said she confided in him about personal matters.