Suit al­leges lax­ness en­abled sex abuser at Pr. Ge­orge’s school

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY LYNH BUI AND DONNA ST. GE­ORGE

Less than two months af­ter Deonte Car­raway was hired as a teacher’s aide for an el­e­men­tary school in Prince Ge­orge’s County, a fourth-grade stu­dent com­plained about his be­hav­ior to an ad­min­is­tra­tor.

“You need to check Deonte’s phone,” the stu­dent told one of the school’s top of­fi­cials, a new court fil­ing shows. “There’s some things with kids on it, nasty things.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tor dis­missed the stu­dent’s con­cerns and did not in­ves­ti­gate, say­ing Car­raway had a “clean record,” ac­cord­ing to a law­suit filed against school staff mem­bers and the county school board.

Hun­dreds of pic­tures, dozens of videos and 23 vic­tims later, the stu­dent turned out to be right.

That early warn­ing from a child in De­cem­ber 2014 was one of nu­mer­ous alarms from stu­dents, teach­ers, par­ents and guardians that ad­min­is­tra­tors at Judge Syl­va­nia W. Woods El­e­men­tary School ig­nored or dis­missed, the law­suit as­serts. The school leader-

ship’s fail­ure to act on the com­plaints en­abled Car­raway for the next 15 months to abuse chil­dren in hun­dreds of in­ci­dents, the law­suit states, un­til he was ar­rested and pleaded guilty this year to state and fed­eral sex abuse and child pornog­ra­phy charges.

The sex­ual abuse Car­raway in­flicted on stu­dents at Woods El­e­men­tary has been widely pub­li­cized af­ter the scan­dal that shook Mary­land’s sec­ond-largest school district broke in Fe­bru­ary 2016. But doc­u­ments filed in court this week of­fer the first de­tailed in­sight into how Car­raway — a man in his early 20s who reg­u­larly showed up at the Gle­nar­den school in his pa­ja­mas and by his lawyer’s ac­count had an IQ of 63 — lever­aged a friend­ship with the school prin­ci­pal and a “to­tal lack of su­per­vi­sion” on cam­pus to gain un­lim­ited ac­cess to his vic­tims.

De­spite re­cur­ring com­plaints about Car­raway’s overly fa­mil­iar and dis­turb­ing be­hav­ior, then-Prin­ci­pal Michelle Wil­liams con­tin­ued to al­low Car­raway to have in­flu­ence at the school and a path to re­cruit and bol­ster his out-of-school con­tacts to cre­ate an “unchecked breed­ing ground for abuse,” an amended com­plaint filed Mon­day in Prince Ge­orge’s County Cir­cuit Court as­serts. His au­thor­ity through the school ex­panded the cir­cle of chil­dren whom he sex­u­ally abused and whom he chore­ographed to per­form sex acts that he recorded on his many cell­phones, the law­suit states.

Civil ac­tions against ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties track events de­tailed in many of the crim­i­nal charges but also ex­pand on Car­raway’s im­ma­ture, dis­rup­tive, ag­gres­sive, in­ap­pro­pri­ate and preda­tory be­hav­ior al­ready out­lined in the child pornog­ra­phy cases.

Wil­liams had “ab­so­lutely no knowl­edge of the abuse of any chil­dren at Judge Syl­va­nia Woods El­e­men­tary School at any­time be­fore Fe­bru­ary 4, 2016 when two rel­a­tives of a stu­dent brought a stu­dent’s cell phone to her,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment Tues­day from her lawyer, Mark T. Fo­ley.

The state­ment said Wil­liams im­me­di­ately re­ported the in­ci­dent to po­lice and child pro­tec­tive ser­vices and “co­or­di­nated the ini­tial ef­forts to as­sist law en­force­ment agen­cies.”

“Con­trary to the al­le­ga­tions of the re­cently amended law­suit for money dam­ages, Prin­ci­pal Wil­liams did not en­cour­age or foster an en­vi­ron­ment to per­mit any abuse,” the state­ment says. “She is sad­dened by the abu­sive con­duct and hopes that these stu­dents and their fam­i­lies achieve emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal heal­ing.”

Seven months af­ter Car­raway was hired in Novem­ber 2014, Wil­liams spoke with him about his “in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tact with stu­dents in pri­vate places inside the school build­ing,” a copy of an email in­cluded in the law­suit shows.

“Dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion we dis­cussed the im­por­tance of us­ing good judge­ment when in­ter­act­ing with stu­dents,” Wil­liams wrote in the mes­sage dated June 15, 2015, ac­cord­ing to the court com­plaint. “You were ad­vised to only en­gage stu­dents in con­ver­sa­tions in ar­eas that are in plain view of the pub­lic. This prac­tice will en­sure that ac­tions or con­ver­sa­tions that could be deemed in­ap­pro­pri­ate do not take place.”

Car­raway was al­lowed to keep work­ing eight more months be­fore he was ar­rested.

Even af­ter that ad­mo­ni­tion, the law­suit con­tends, Car­raway con­tin­ued pat­terns of abu­sive and in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior that the school board and Wil­liams en­abled or “at a min­i­mum were de­lib­er­ately in­dif­fer­ent to.”

County school of­fi­cials said Tues­day that they have made con­certed ef­forts to step up re­port­ing of sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity.

“Stu­dent safety re­mains a top pri­or­ity of Dr. Maxwell and the Prince Ge­orge’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion,” said John White, a spokesman for the school district, re­fer­ring to Kevin Maxwell, the school district’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. “Since 2016, the school sys­tem has taken im­por­tant steps to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dents and strengthen pro­ce­dures for pro­tect­ing chil­dren in all of our schools.”

Car­raway was laid off as a paid aide in Septem­ber 2015 but con­tin­ued as a vol­un­teer with free range at the school un­til his Fe­bru­ary 2016 ar­rest. As a vol­un­teer, he main­tained a fac­ulty badge, a copy of which is in the court fil­ing. The cre­den­tials con­veyed to staff that he held sway with the prin­ci­pal and to stu­dents that he was an au­thor­ity fig­ure, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Car­raway was al­lowed, the court fil­ing says, to pull stu­dents out of class­rooms at will, fill in as a sub­sti­tute teacher, pro­mote his com­mu­nity chil­dren’s choir, su­per­vise an overnight stu­dent trip, cre­ate a “male men­tor­ing group” and walk chil­dren to their homes, the law­suit al­leges.

As part of his school re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, the law­suit says, Car­raway was as­signed the task of “or­ga­niz­ing the clos­ets through­out the school,” which his crim­i­nal pleas ac­knowl­edged be­came among the sites of his as­saults.

The law­suit cites spe­cific com­plaints by staff mem­bers who re­ported Car­raway touch­ing chil­dren un­nec­es­sar­ily, ac­com­pa­ny­ing them into bath­rooms or pass­ing them candy.

“Mul­ti­ple stu­dents re­ported Car­raway’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate and abu­sive con­duct to Prin­ci­pal Wil­liams and teach­ers, yet no mean­ing­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion or ac­tion was taken,” the law­suit as­serts.

The suit, which seeks un­spec­i­fied dam­ages, does not in­di­cate whether any mem­bers of staff took com­plaints be­yond the prin­ci­pal to higher of­fi­cials in the school sys­tem.

Sev­eral law­suits filed by the firm Joseph Green­wald & Laake, in­clud­ing a class-ac­tion com­plaint, con­tend that the school board and staff mem­bers are li­able for emo­tional and phys­i­cal in­juries to the chil­dren be­cause the fail­ure to re­port sus­pected child abuse un­der state law en­abled Car­raway’s “preda­tory con­duct” and cre­ated an un­safe school en­vi­ron­ment.

Ti­mothy F. Maloney, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the fam­i­lies, de­clined to com­ment.

Car­raway, 24, is serv­ing a 75year fed­eral prison sen­tence af­ter he pleaded guilty in Jan­uary to 15 child pornog­ra­phy charges. Sep­a­rately, he was sen­tenced in Septem­ber in Prince Ge­orge’s County Cir­cuit Court to 100 years on 23 counts of child sex abuse and pornog­ra­phy.

Au­thor­i­ties said Car­raway co­erced chil­dren as young as 9 to send him ex­plicit images through so­cial me­dia or to per­form sex acts for him to record at school, in pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties and in pri­vate homes. Car­raway also en­gaged in some sex acts with chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to his crim­i­nal plea — which the law­suit also al­leges.

Since the case broke, Prince Ge­orge’s schools of­fi­cials have not com­mented on what went wrong at the school or how Car­raway man­aged to have so much time alone with chil­dren dur­ing the school day.

Maxwell, the school district’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said early on af­ter Car­raway’s ar­rest that he was shocked and ap­palled by the al­le­ga­tions, and he cre­ated a task force that rec­om­mended im­prove­ments in train­ing and pro­ce­dures across the district in May 2016. The re­port did not men­tion Car­raway or lapses at the school. Maxwell has re­peat­edly said there was no ev­i­dence of a sys­temic prob­lem in the district.

Car­raway’s ad­mis­sions of abuse be­came part of a string of com­plaints al­leg­ing that the school sys­tem fails to heed whistle­blow­ers.

Months af­ter Car­raway’s ar­rest, the district lost $6.4 mil­lion in Head Start fund­ing af­ter a par­ent re­ported that her 3-year-old son’s teacher had forced him to mop up his own urine as pun­ish­ment. The mother went to fed­eral au­thor­i­ties, say­ing the school sys­tem had been un­re­spon­sive to her con­cerns.

Last month, a state in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that grades for nearly 5,500 stu­dents in Prince Ge­orge’s were changed days be­fore grad­u­a­tion in the past two years. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was or­dered af­ter four mem­bers of the school board wrote a let­ter to Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) say­ing whistle­blow­ers had come for­ward with ev­i­dence of grade ma­nip­u­la­tion aimed at in­creas­ing the grad­u­a­tion rate.

The lat­est fil­ings in the Car­raway law­suit say Car­raway ap­peared at the school seek­ing to work with chil­dren. De­spite be­ing un­qual­i­fied, he was hired in Novem­ber 2014, the fil­ings state.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Wil­liams “pulled strings” to get Car­raway on the pay­roll and failed to se­cure the two back­ground ref­er­ences re­quired for the job. When the school board re­minded Wil- liams in De­cem­ber 2014 that it had not re­ceived ref­er­ences, one of Wil­liams’s sub­or­di­nates sent a let­ter. A sec­ond let­ter was never ob­tained.

Af­ter Car­raway’s ar­rest, school of­fi­cials said he had passed back­ground checks.

Teach­ers reg­u­larly com­plained to Wil­liams and other ad­min­is­tra­tors about Car­raway, who was of­ten seen skip­ping through the halls like a child and car­ried a back­pack full of candy for the chil­dren, the com­plaint said.

“Kids have my heart,” Car­raway said at his sen­tenc­ing in Au­gust. “When I’m around kids, I feel like a child.”

Teach­ers told ad­min­is­tra­tors that he dis­rupted in­struc­tion, in­sti­gated fights among chil­dren, and phys­i­cally and ver­bally bul­lied stu­dents. In one in­stance, Car­raway gave a stu­dent he was sex­u­ally abus­ing candy and a present in the mid­dle of her fifth-grade class.

When he was not in class­rooms, he would pull chil­dren out of class over teach­ers’ ob­jec­tions, the law­suit states.

“Both teach­ers and stu­dents be­came afraid to chal­lenge Car­raway’s con­duct be­cause of his known friend­ship with the Prin­ci­pal and the use of her name,” the law­suit claims.

When a coun­selor no­ticed Car­raway alone in the bath­room with a stu­dent in 2015, the law­suit says, Wil­liams con­fronted the stu­dent: “Don’t do it again be­cause he could touch you.”

Af­ter a stu­dent told a coun­selor that Car­raway recorded him and an­other child uri­nat­ing on each other in the bath­room, the coun­selor re­port­edly re­sponded, “I’ll deal with it. Go back to class.” The stu­dent was later sus­pended, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

The mother of an­other stu­dent at the school re­ported one day over­hear­ing Wil­liams in­struct cer­tain staff mem­bers to tell par­ents who called the of­fice about Car­raway’s con­duct that “we don’t have proof” and “it’s a ru­mor.”

Car­raway was not ar­rested un­til Fe­bru­ary 2016, af­ter a stu­dent’s un­cle dis­cov­ered in­ap­pro­pri­ate photos on the stu­dent’s phone. The law­suit says the un­cle re­ported and showed the photos to Wil­liams and an­other ad­min­is­tra­tor and was told to re­turn to the school the fol­low­ing day for an­other meet­ing.

In­stead, the un­cle went to the po­lice that night.

MARK GAIL/FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Deonte Car­raway, a school em­ployee turned vol­un­teer, is likely to spend the rest of his life be­hind bars for sex­u­ally abus­ing chil­dren at Judge Syl­va­nia W. Woods El­e­men­tary School in Gle­nar­den, Md.

PRINCE GE­ORGE’S COUNTY PO­LICE

Car­raway, seen at age 22 nearly two years ago, re­ceived a 75year sen­tence in fed­eral court in Au­gust and a 100-year term in state court in Septem­ber.

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