Benton County Attorney responds to school statement
Last week in a letter written to this newspaper, Benton County Attorney David C. Thompson replied to Benton Community’s response to recent media reports on the Board of Examiners’ actions regarding the surrendered teaching license of a former Benton Community school teacher.
Thompson stated, “The teacher in question sent sexually explicit e-mails to several students aged 11 to 14. At no time did Benton Community report this matter to law enforcement or the Department of Human Services so that it could be properly investigated. The district’s response that you carried in your paper talks about inaccuracies, even though none of the recent media reports are inaccurate. Further, the district fails to tell the public that in the future they will report matters like this to law enforcement.”
In a press release issued April 29, the county attorney states the district failed to mention or acknowledge the following in its response:
1. Documents obtained in August 2009 from the district indicate that they knew of the teacher’s inappropriate conduct with students as early as Nov. 21, 2005.
2. The district never reported this matter to the Benton County Sheriff’s Department, Benton County Attorney’s Office or the Department of Human Services at any time in 2005, 2006, 2007 or 2008.
3. When a Benton County Detective attempted to interview the superintendent on Jan. 9, 2006, concerning this matter, he reportedly refused to answer many relevant questions, citing the confidential nature of this “personnel” matter. The superintendent told the detective the district would require a court order to release the school’s investigation. Thompson alleges this hindered the sheriff department’s investigation of this matter.
4. Although the district eventually supplied investigative materials to the Benton County Attorney’s Office in February 2006, they failed to mention that they would not honor the first court order obtained for this information. Instead, Thompson alleged their attorney required a second order (even though the first was signed by an Iowa District Court Judge). This reportedly resulted in further delay in the sheriff department’s investigation.
5. The district failed to provide all of its investigation into this matter to Benton County in February 2006. The state realized it had not received the entire district investigation file only after receiving information from current School District Attorney Douglas Oelschlaeger. The state further learned from Oelschlaeger that he was having difficulty retrieving the investigative file from the former attorney for the district.
Thompson stated, “The state finally received a copy of the district’s investigation into this matter on August 10, 2009. These materials received on August 10, 2009, contained additional information that was not produced by the District in February 2006. As of this date, the state is still unsure as to whether or not it has received a complete copy of the district’s investigation into this matter.”
Thompson added, “The Benton County Attorney’s Office and sheriff’s department will continue in its efforts to work with the Benton Community School District in order to keep our communities and schools safe. However, the district’s recent public response is disappointing for multiple reasons. First, the district’s claims ‘inaccuracies’ are contained in recent media articles. These articles not only appear to be factually correct, but can be verified by an examination of public record documents. Second, and more importantly, the recent district response does not address the underlying problem here: they failed to report this very serious matter to Benton County law enforcement officials.”
He further gave reasons for the advantages of law enforcement investigation over school investigations, including:
- Law enforcement officers have specialized training and expertise in these matters, versus non-trained school officials attempting an “in-house” investigation.
- Law enforcement has multiple tools available to it that schools lack.
- Law enforcement can utilize the services and resources of agencies like the St. Luke’s Child Protection Center.
Thompson said, “Simply put, schools conducting their own investigations are shutting out these highly valuable officers and their resources. Simply put, the district’s resources in this particular matter were not greater than those available to law enforcement. The district did conduct its own forensic analysis of two computers used by teacher in question at school. Law enforcement officers with expertise and experience in courtroom testimony could have done this at no charge to the district, and could have immediately followed up with any leads they may have obtained. Further, forensic analysis done by the schools is inherent with the following risk that the information they obtain my not be admissible in court in a subsequent prosecution.”
He added, “The school district fails to mention any search warrants they obtained in their investigation for good reason: they cannot obtain them. They felt it relevant to search computers that the teacher in question used at school, but apparently it did not occur to them that it would be at least equally important to report this matter to law enforcement officials so that a search warrant could be obtained for home computers. An investigation by trained law enforcement officers (versus a school investigation by untrained or inadequately trained individuals) is a professional, impartial investigation that the public can trust the results of. A schools investigation of “one of their own” does not convey the same degree of public trust … What did the district’s investigation cost? Law enforcement officials do not bill by the hour, and the district would not have incurred any charges for a thorough law enforcement investigation. And finally, the district does not have the authority to file criminal charges should the situation warrant prosecution.”
Thompson concluded, “Benton Community Schools have a long, proud and storied tradition in the education of our young, and in the hearts and minds of the communities that make up Benton County. Benton County law enforcement agencies will continue in their effort to work with the District, as it has in the past, in order to keep our schools safe. However, in the future, confidentiality must not be used as a shield to protect the disclosure of critically important information to law enforcement, especially when the health and welfare of children are at stake. It would be the hope of all in the Benton County law enforcement community that the Benton Community School District would publicly affirm their intention to report matters such as this immediately to law enforcement in the future. Our children deserve no less.”
UPDATED May 10, 2010 4:48 PM