Most criminal cases involving local teachers accused of sexual contact with students end in plea deals, with sentences ranging from probation for a Montgomery County case to jail and prison terms for cases in Butler, Clark and Warren counties.
This newspaper’s investigation found that those put behind bars don’t commonly serve their full sentences.
One reason for plea bargains, Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson said, is social media and technology have boosted the odds of conviction.
“They’re creating an evidence trail now to facilitate the relationship in using social media or phones or whatever it is,” Wilson said. “They’re creating an evidence trail that didn’t exist in the past.”
Teacher-student sex crimes spark outrage because of the relationship dynamics, said University of Dayton Law Professor Emeritus Thomas Hagel.
“A teacher is a person of trust, if you will,” Hagel said. “It’s just like a priest or a minister or a rabbi or a doctor or a counselor who would do the same thing.”
Three current cases include Tuesday’s scheduled sentencing of a former Miamisburg teacher convicted in the sexual battery of an eighth-grade student in her classroom. In addition a Hamilton educator and an ex-Franklin teacher have pleaded not guilty to charges they had inappropriate contact with students.
Montgomery County assistant prosecutor Michele Henne said she will push for maximum prison time Tuesday because ex-Miamisburg Middle School teacher Jessica Langford violated “the trust of the community, of the school, of society generally speaking, by taking advantage of a young student.”
‘Adults taking advantage of our youth’
The trial date for Hilary Dattilo, 30, is June 20. The Hamilton teacher was charged in January with sexual battery and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor involving a female student.
The Monroe resident, a volleyball coach, has been placed on unpaid leave by the school district.
Earlier this month, Madalyn Arnett pleaded not guilty to charges of having sex with a student. The former Franklin High School teacher faces a sexual battery charge for allegedly having sex with a 16-year-old.
The 25-year-old Arnett was arrested at her West Carrollton home in March and charged with the third-degree felony. She was indicted in April by a Warren County grand jury.
It’s unclear whether these cases represent an uptick in sex crime charges being brought against area teachers. County prosecutors here said they don’t keep track of cases by job category when this news organization requested public records relating to the number of teachers charged with sex crimes since 2015.
Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said he doesn’t “have any reason to believe these teacher-student relationships are more prevalent now. … I would surmise that these relationships happen less often now, but they are much more highly-publicized.”
Yet the recent volume of the cases against teachers and youth sports coaches prompted Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer to change tactics to combat the issue.
“Adults are preying on juveniles in this community,” he said.
Plummer said he plans to have a detective focusing on human trafficking “who’s going to really focus on this situation involving adults taking advantage of our youth. It’s time this stops in this community.”
A prison sentence reduced
Most teachers charged locally have pleaded guilty, according to area prosecutors. On rare occasions, others — like Langford — fight the charges in front of a judge or jury.
“They have a constitutional right to have a trial, and they can exercise that right, no doubt about it,” Wilson said.
“But when the evidence is absolutely overwhelming and you want to save any kind of face at sentencing,” he added, “and want to be able to come before the judge and apologize to the court and the family – and be genuinely remorseful – to a certain extent you need to accept responsibility.”
Wilson said that’s what Anthony Parker did, but he still served a prison sentence. The former Northeastern High School teacher was 36 in 2010 when he pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual battery and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Parker later appealed and served a reduced sentence, Wilson said.
Langford faces sentencing
The April 13 verdict against Langford came after a jury found her guilty of having sex with a 14-year-old in 2017 in her Miamisburg Middle School classroom.
The 32-year-old Centerville woman is set is be sentenced on three counts of sexual battery and three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor came after a trial in which social media and text messages played a role.
Langford is eligible for probation, and the crimes do not carry with them mandatory prison sentences, assistant prosecutor Henne said.
Langford’s attorney is asking Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Timothy O’Connell to impose the minimum sentence of “community control sanctions with electronic monitoring,” court records show.
The 104-page motion filed by Lawrence Greger notes Langford’s “blemish-free record” and includes about 40 letters in support of Langford.
As of last week, no sentencing motion was filed by prosecutors.
Each of the six counts carries with it up to five years in prison, but Henne has said she expects the court to merge the counts, likely making the maximum sentence 15 years.
‘Teachers are vulnerable to allegations’
UD’s Hagel said teachers are in a position of trust.
“A minor would go to them or believe that they could trust these people and open up to them and be less concerned about their safety around them, and they’re authority figures as well.” Hagel said. “So if the teacher says it’s OK, well then, sure, it must be. Or if the doctor says it, or the priest says it.”
Conversely, area defense attorney John Rion said alleged criminal behavior of teachers can be based on hearsay.
“I think teachers are vulnerable to allegations and even false allegations often by virtue of the lack of development of young people,” said Rion, who is currently representing Arnett. “It’s so easy to say something or to make a boast or to have a subject on social media.”
The sexual battery (teacher) charge, a third-degree felony unless the victim is younger than 13 years old, is the criminal count most used by prosecutors, according to court records. The maximum sentence for that charge is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The gender factor debate
The review by this newspaper found no pattern in whether male or female teachers who are convicted get sentenced to probation or prison.
Michael Weaver, a former Centerville High School educator, was sentenced to probation in April 2013 after pleading guilty to two counts of sexual battery by a teacher.
The accusations against Weaver stemmed from the 2005-06 school year when he was 34 and the victim was 16. At sentencing, Weaver’s victim said she told him she had been sexually abused and that Weaver “capitalized on my vulnerability and pursued a sexual relationship with me.”
Weaver’s probation was terminated in January 2017, according to court records. He also registers as a sex offender.
“Every case is decided on its own basis,” Rion said. “I can’t see a judge considering gender as a reason to influence that decision.”
Clark County’s Wilson shared similar thoughts.
“I could see where that would be a perception,” he said. “I don’t have the empirical evidence here to support that.”
Some judges, Hagel said, may have a “subconscious inclination” to punish male offenders more harshly because society has looked at the scenarios differently.
“I’ve heard guys joke about it,” Hagel said, “saying, ‘My God, you know, that’s a dream. There’s no victim here.’ … I don’t think anybody would make that same statement or joke – even those guys – when you’re talking about a guy with a female victim.”
Prison vs. probation
A review of six recent convictions found four teachers received jail time and two received probation.
In 2011 Mason High School teacher Stacy Schuler was found guilty of 16 felony counts of sexual battery. She was convicted in Warren County Common Pleas Court of supplying five students with alcohol and having sex with them multiple times in her Springboro home.
Schuler was found guilty after a four-day bench trial. She served a little more than a year of a four-year sentence.
In February 2015, former New Miami teacher Justin Madden entered guilty pleas in Butler County to four charges involving two teen girls.
Madden was accused of having sex with an 18-year-old student at his Trenton home, sending sexually explicit messages to a 16-year-old girl, and hampering investigators, according to prosecutors.
Madden was sentenced in April 2015 to 93 months in prison but was released in January 2018, according to online records.
In December 2016, ex-Mason High School band director Robert Bass pleaded guilty in Greene County Common Pleas Court to sexual battery against a 17-year-old Fairborn High School student in 1996.
Bass was sentenced to six months in jail and five years’ probation.
In May 2017, ex-Fairfield teacher Tyler Conrad was convicted after a bench trial of sexual imposition and contributing to the delinquency of a minor — both misdemeanors — in Butler County Court.
Conrad was sentenced to 180 days in local jail and required to register as a sex offender. In January 2018, Conrad was denied in his efforts for a new trial.
In September 2013, former Wayne High School teacher Kelsey Hartmann was sentenced to five years’ probation after performing a sex act on a teen boy in her vehicle. Originally charged in Montgomery County with three counts of sexual battery against a minor by a teacher, she pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual conduct.
Hartmann’s probation ended after two years, according to court records, though she still must register as a sex offender. After the sentencing, the victim’s mother was upset Hartmann received only probation but said that her son would have had to testify if the case went to trial.
Whereas Langford went to trial, former Kettering Fairmont High School substitute teacher Madelyn Marx pleaded guilty in Montgomery County last month to having sex with at least two different teen students.
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With multiple victims, Hagel said, there is less likelihood for getting probation. Nevertheless, a judge - noting there were three victims in Marx’s case - sentenced her to probation for two counts of sexual battery by a teacher.
In sentencing Marx, Montgomery County Judge Steven Dankof mentioned the Hartmann case and a 2010 probation sentence of Samuel Moody as precedent. Moody was not a teacher, but a man in his 80s accused of gross sexual imposition against a girl younger than 13. A registered sex offender, Moody’s probation ended in 2012.
Regardless of prison-time, legal professionals say the real penalty these teachers suffer is loss of their careers. All lose their teaching licenses if they are convicted.
“A teacher loses a great deal more than an average citizen does because of the investment that they made in their education and because of their inability to continue their career by virtue an allegation of this nature,” Rion said. “It puts them in a different position. The penalty is more harsh in that regard than it would be for a person who didn’t have to have state licenses and things like that.”
Even though Marx was not sentenced to prison, Montgomery County assistant prosecutor Dylan Smearcheck said Marx was punished and that the plea deal meant her victims didn’t have to testify.
“Not being able to pursue the rest of your life and registering the rest of your life every 90 days as a sex offender is not ‘getting off’ by any stretch,” Smearcheck said. “She is held accountable for her actions, and the state is satisfied that this sentence will prevent her from re-offending in the future.”
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Staff Writers Lauren Pack, Parker Perry and John Bedell contributed to this report.