If Colorado Springs School District 11 has learned lessons from the alleged child molestation case of former policeman and school volunteer Joshua Carrier, it's hard to tell.
For one thing, its website shows no obvious changes in its policy for screening or managing volunteers. And asked last week whether and how policies have changed since Carrier was accused of fondling 22 Mann Middle School students between 2009 and 2011, district spokesman Glenn Gustafson replied in an e-mail, "Our official answer is no such record exists, and no comment."
Last week, after a month-long trial, Carrier, 31, was convicted on 21 counts of child pornography and acquitted of 36 counts that involved illegal touching of children. But the jury reached an impasse over 150 charges involving illegal touching, which the defense claimed took place during so-called health exams of students.
District Attorney Dan May says his office will try Carrier again on those charges, with a trial date to be set during a May 1 hearing.
Carrier, who had no previous criminal record, faces sentences of 18 months to six years on each child-porn count. Some unresolved molestation counts carry sentences of life in prison.
Defense attorney Christopher Decker, who couldn't be reached for comment, could ask that the trial be moved to a different jurisdiction based on prejudicial publicity. However, May says potential jurors' biggest concern during selection for the first trial was the duration of the trial, not that they'd heard too much.
The case has long silenced D-11 officials. As reported by the Independent last Aug. 25 ("Underwhelming oversight," cover story), D-11 did random checks for about 10 percent of its 13,000-plus volunteers in 2009-10, and was on a similar pace for 2010-11. The checks didn't include fingerprinting. Only about 70 Colorado background checks, with fingerprinting, were done in each of the past two years.
D-11's website today states, "Random background checks are conducted throughout the school year." It goes on, "D-11 volunteers who are requested by school staff to perform their duties without supervision of a D-11 employee must be fingerprinted and background checked as we do potential employees."
Meanwhile, Colorado Springs police — whose own screening procedures were questioned in the Indy story — have inserted new questions "to the Pre-employment Polygraph Booklet regarding possession and production of child porn," Bob Armstrong, police investigative specialist, writes in an e-mail. But, he adds, "This change had nothing to do with Carrier."
Regardless, any changes are too little, too late in the opinion of Rick Levinson, a local attorney hired by 14 victims' families to sue the city and D-11. He plans to file suit in U.S. District Court in Denver within the next month.
"Someday the school district is going to wake up and find they have serious issues to explore," Levinson says. "Same with the police."
Levinson adds that the first trial's outcome doesn't impact his civil claims:
"I don't think it matters at all. We have direct evidence that he was fondling kids' genitals. He did it on school grounds. It's against school policy, and there's evidence the administrators knew what the heck was going on and didn't do anything about it" when parents inquired.
Two other attorneys have filed notices of claim (stating intent to sue) with D-11 and the city on behalf of a total of three other kids.
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