Educator accused before child porn charge

James Uphoff

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James Uphoff

James Uphoff worked with kids after accused of touching teen.

Prominent local educator James Uphoff continued working with juveniles as a volunteer court special advocate after he was accused of inappropriately touching a 13-year-old student at an Oakwood school event in 2010, an I-Team investigation found.

>>>Timeline: James Uphoff

That 2010 incident did not result in criminal charges but Uphoff, now 79, agreed to stay away from junior high school events for the rest of 2010 and seek counseling as part of an agreement among him, the Oakwood City Prosecutor, Oakwood Public Safety Department and the complainant’s parents, Oakwood Police records show.

In April 2011, the same police records state that Uphoff fulfilled his part of the agreement.

However, his work with children through the Montgomery County Juvenile Court-Appointed Special Advocate program continued uninterrupted until he became the subject of a federal child pornography investigation in 2012, the newspaper investigation found.

Uphoff pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography and spent a little more than a year in federal prison before he was released in November 2015.

Juvenile Court Administrator Jim Cole said his office immediately suspended Uphoff from CASA cases after the pornography allegations came to light in 2012. He did not find out about the 2010 investigation until several weeks ago when he was contacted by the I-Team.

Had Cole known about the investigation in 2010, Uphoff “would have been taken off the CASA rolls” then, he said.

Reached at his Centerville home, Uphoff denied ever acting inappropriately toward a child — not in 2010, not during his work with the courts or anywhere else.

“Never, ever. Nothing,” he said, though he admitted he had files on his computer that resulted in the federal charges.

“Mr. Uphoff’s claim is the same from the beginning, that nothing had occurred (in 2010),” said attorney Jon Paul Rion, who represented Uphoff in the federal case. “He maintains that position today.”

Rion said Uphoff agreed to the counseling “as a measure that was taken to make sure there was not an issue. And when everyone was satisfied (that) there was not an issue it went away.”

But the mother of the 2010 complainant — speaking with her son’s permission after he declined to be interviewed — said her son was traumatized and that she believes no one held Uphoff fully accountable for his actions.

“It took (my son) years to undo the damage Uphoff caused,” said the woman, who this newspaper agreed not to name because of its policy against identifying victims of alleged sex crimes.

‘Frozen in place’

The alleged 2010 incident occurred at an event at Oakwood High School. The mother said she later noticed that her son was acting strangely. The boy later told an Oakwood police officer that a man he didn’t know touched him, tickled him and made him feel uncomfortable during the assembly, according to an Oakwood Police report.

The boy told the officer the man, who identified himself as “John,” continued to touch him throughout the event. The boy reported being scared and “frozen in place” because of the man’s actions, according to the police report.

A second officer met with Uphoff a few days later. Told of the boy’s claims, Uphoff “acknowledged he may have touched a boy at the event but in no way was this casual touching for sexual gratification,” the report says.

Uphoff said he was seeing a counselor “on a regular basis for all types of personal conflicts he may need help resolving,” according to the report.

Uphoff told police he was “very concerned about his reputation if this allegation were to surface or word leaked out he was being accused.” His attorney at the time, Steven Dankof, also provided a copy of Uphoff’s answers to a polygraph conducted by an outside firm.

“Uphoff denied touching a student for sexual gratification and the polygraphist determined he was being truthful,” the report says.

The case was closed in April 2011 after then-Capt. David Lantz wrote that Uphoff’s counselor “called me and said he is satisfied Uphoff has fulfilled his part of the agreement and he (the counselor) is not concerned about any future problems of this nature.”

Oakwood Schools Superintendent Kyle Ramey defended the school’s handling of the allegation from the student.

“I think the school did what we needed to do and reacted appropriately as things developed and as we were made aware of things,” he said.

‘Media circus’ feared

The I-Team was unable to obtain a copy of the 2010 agreement among Uphoff, the Oakwood prosecutor and others. Oakwood City Prosecutor Robert Jacques said the city no longer has a copy of the agreement. Nor do Oakwood schools or the attorneys who drafted it.

The two principles who negotiated the agreement, Dankof and then-Oakwood Prosecutor Dennis Adkins — both now judges — declined comment. Dankof was appointed as Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge in December 2010 and Adkins in June 2011. As sitting judges, both said it would be inappropriate to comment.

The boy’s mother said the incident with her son should have prompted the judge to give Uphoff a lengthier sentence on the child pornography charge. Federal prosecutors had argued for an 18-month sentence.

“If he pleaded guilty and they knowingly had the information, then we failed our children in protecting them,” she said.

She said she didn’t push to prosecute Uphoff for his behavior toward her son because she wanted to protect the boy.

“We didn’t want this to be a media circus,” she said. “That was difficult for him to go through enough and Uphoff was a well-known figure in the education community.”

Uphoff: ‘I’m really surprised’

The pornography investigation into Uphoff was launched in 2012 after Wright State University employees traced pornographic materials to his university-owned computer. Authorities then searched the computer and his Oakwood home, where more than 500 images and two videos were found on three of Uphoff’s computer devices.

Investigators said they discovered hundreds of printouts depicting images of naked teenage boys and young adults in bondage or other pornographic poses. They also found hundreds of erotic stories of adults engaging in sexual acts with children and children engaging in sexual acts with other children.

According to Uphoff, the 2010 allegation was known by U.S. District Judge Walter Rice when he sentenced Uphoff in the pornography case.

“I’m really surprised you’re calling about it because Judge Rice went so far as to mention the case,” Uphoff said in an interview with an I-Team reporter. “He was aware of the (2010) case, but he found it had absolutely no connection to my (pornography) case.

“In fact, he said in court, ‘He, Uphoff, even was subjected to a lie detector test and passed with flying colors,’ ” Uphoff said.

The I-Team was unable to get a copy of the polygraph, which included answers to four questions.

Rion said no one involved in Uphoff’s federal prosecution believed the 2010 allegation should be considered as a factor in his sentencing.

“Everybody involved, the U.S. attorney, the court, the defense counsel, knew of the situation you’re referring to in the federal case and my sense is all parties came to the conclusion it was not relevant,” Rion said. “All I can tell you is when that issue came up in this case it was met by Mr. Uphoff with complete disbelief that it was still an issue of concern to anyone.”

Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that the 2010 allegation was known about in the 2013 child porn case, but declined to comment on whether it had any impact on the prosecution or sentencing. A spokesman for Rice said he could not comment because the case is still open while Uphoff is on supervised release.

Shocking revelations

The revelations about Uphoff’s pornography case shocked many in the community. He sat on the Oakwood Board of Education from 1989 to 2007 and served as president of the Ohio School Boards Association in 2000. He also taught at Wright State for four decades, was known as a leading expert on early childhood education and is the author of numerous academic books on education.

His work as a courtroom advocate for abused and neglected children began in 2004, when he became a CASA volunteer.

Cole said the program has more than 100 volunteers who the county juvenile judges appoint for up to three cases a year each.

“(The CASA program) is basically the eyes and ears of the court in regards to child custody cases where children services has removed a child in cases of neglect, abuse or dependency,” Cole said.

Special advocates talk to juveniles throughout the proceedings, make sure the case is handled properly and prepare a report for the court on what they believe is the best interest of the child.

Cole said Uphoff was never accused of inappropriate behavior with a child in the CASA program during his time there, which ended in 2012.

But had he known about the 2010 case, he said, he would have taken Uphoff out of the program, “no question.”

A local advocate for abused children said child pornography is an offense as inexcusable as the physical or sexual abuse of a child.

“For someone to only serve 15 months for a conviction for that kind of thing, it’s insufficient,” said Dan Frondorf, area director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “It’s an insult to the victim and the victim’s parents. Even if he’s not the one who took the pictures, sharing in the exploitation of a child is just an awful, awful thing to do for a child. Every time that image is used, the child is victimized again.”

In Uphoff’s 2014 sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christy L. Muncy said Uphoff had been viewing materials related to children being used as sex objects for nearly a decade.

In her sentencing memorandum to the court, she said such activity is harmful to society.

“The market for child pornography would not exist but for the demand,” she wrote.”Uphoff contributed to that demand. As such, he holds some responsibility for the creation of images and videos which depict children being used in the most deplorable way.

“There is simply no place in a decent society for a person to seek child pornography, to collect it, to hoard it,” she added. “The only way to deter such conduct is to punish those who participate in its market.”


Timeline

1989 – 2007: James Uphoff, professor of education at Wright State University and prominent local educator, serves as an Oakwood city school board member.

March 2004: Uphoff volunteers as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate working with child crime victims through Montgomery County Juvenile Court.

August 2010: A 13-year-old boy tells Oakwood police Uphoff inappropriately touched him at a school event. An investigation begins. Uphoff denies allegations.

September 2010: Uphoff and his attorney negotiate a deal with the complainant's parents and Oakwood city attorney. Uphoff agrees to get counseling and allows police to talk to his counselor about his status.

April 2011: Uphoff's counselor tells Oakwood police he "is not concerned about any future problems of this nature."

June 2012: Uphoff retires from WSU.

September 2012: Wright State police find questionable material on Uphoff's computer, prompting an investigation into pandering obscenity involving a minor. The investigation is turned over to the Montgomery County prosecutor's office. A search of Uphoff's home finds more evidence, leading to federal investigation.

September 2012: Montgomery County Juvenile Courts officials bar Uphoff from working with children through the CASA program because of the federal pornography case.

October 2013: Uphoff pleads guilty to one count of possessing child pornography.

September 2014: U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice sentences Uphoff to 15 months in prison.

November 2015: Uphoff is released from prison and moves back into his former house. But since the home is within 1,000 feet of a school, he is in violation of his status as a Tier II sex offender, he is forced to move. He now lives in Centerville.

Complete coverage

The Dayton Daily News is the only media outlet to investigate this aspect of the James Uphoff case; our reporters have worked for weeks to verify and double-check the facts of this important development.

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