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Waiting for victims to step forward and checking employees for criminal past, provides little protection from predators in public schools

Daniel CliattFormer teacher Daniel Cliatt (pictured), age 30, was sentenced January 16th, to serve seventy years in prison for the sexual abuse of a twelve year-old male student. Prosecutors say Cliatt may have a total of six student victims.

On January 16th, the packed courtroom in Viera fell silent as a thirteen year-old boy took the stand in the sentencing hearing for Daniel Cliatt, his former elementary school teacher. Sporting a dreadlock hair cut, and wearing a dark “T” shirt, he sat calmly in the witness box waiting for Cliatt’s attorney Michael Dwyer to cross-examine him.

“You said you want Mr. Cliatt to go to prison forever. Is that right?”

“Yes.” He answered.

Dwyer retrieved a sheaf of paper from the defense table. “But when Detective Mathews asked you why you didn’t report this, you said you didn’t want him to go to jail… is that correct?”

“That’s what I thought then…but I don’t think that now,” the boy replied.

Judge David Dugan sentenced Cliatt to seventy years in prison for abusing his former elementary school student beginning when the child was twelve.

The molestation was discovered by accident in May 2005, when a teacher at Endeavor Elementary School happened to walk into the classroom as Cliatt was assaulting the child.

Cliatt had been a classroom teacher for only five years, but police say he may have abused as many as six of his male students.

Assuming he could have taught for another fifteen years, the fortunate fluke that brought him to justice, may have prevented the molestation of another twenty students.

As we can see by the response Cliatt’s victim gave to the defense attorney, children who are being abused rarely come forward because they are under the spell of a predatory adult.

The whole nation is currently baffled by the case of the Missouri boy who was kidnapped by a suspected pedophile and lived for over four years in the home of his alleged abductor.

Why didn’t Shawn Hornbeck simply knock on the neighbor’s door, and tell them he had been kidnapped by Michael Devlin in 2002? Neighbors reported seeing the boy riding his bike and even spending time with his girlfriend. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Hornbeck spoke to local police in 2003, at age twelve, telling them that his bike had been stolen from outside Devlin’s apartment.

How can an institution like our school system locate victims and perpetrators without relying on children to extract themselves from their tormentor?

“First of all, we should allow school counselors to actively question students about any abuse that may be occurring,” says Criminal Investigator Jerome Hudepohl. He said current policies prevent counsellors and teachers from doing so, because the schools fear a law suit.

“They are set up to take a report from the student, but they may not actively question students.” Hudepohl said an affirmative response should be turned over to sex crimes investigators immediately.

Hudepohl is currently a private investigator and a past member of Protect Our Children’s board of directors. He retired from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office after a thirty-year career with the department.

He said fear of litigation also affects the way school systems check the backgrounds of perspective employees: “They contact the personnel department and ask for a recommendation. If the employee hasn’t been arrested and convicted of something they give the person a clean report. The employee may have had two hundred complaints filed against him, but if none of the complaints has resulted in a criminal sentence, they say nothing. This is due to fear of litigation.”

Two law suits have been filed to date, against the Brevard County School District, on behalf of Cliatt’s alleged victims.

Hudepohl says school security people should talk with former co-workers of any prospective employee.

“There is no replacement for good old leg work and good investigative procedure. That always includes talking to people who know the person being investigated.” He said the current method used by schools relies primarily upon computer searches of the F.B.I. Fingerprint Database and the National Sex Offender Registry.

Hudepohl says school security people should do a “residential inquiry” of every place the prospective employee has lived. He said local, county and state police agencies should be contacted,checking to see if the subject’s name is in the agency’s “Intelligence File”, a data base of names known to the police for various reasons.

“They should ask if the person’s name appears in the intelligence file as a victim, complainant or suspect. This would help to direct a further investigation.”

He said the background investigation should be conducted on any adult employee who has contact with children including coaches, volunteers and non-instructional staff.

School officials said Daniel Cliatt passed both the F.B.I. and F.D.L.E. background checks. Until his arrest in 2005, he had no prior criminal record.

Hudepohl says there should be a statewide clearinghouse containing all the data collected in the background check. This would prevent a duplication of effort should a rejected employee apply for a school position elsewhere in the state.

He said adults in the school system should be checked and rechecked on an in-house, rotating basis: “People are people…things come up. The model citizen on Monday can be uncovered as an abuser on Tuesday”

When told about the recent proposal made by a local polygraph examiner, that adults in schools should be polygraphed on random basis, he had mixed feelings: “I’m not a big fan of polygraphs, because sociopaths can beat it. Most sex offenders are sociopaths or psychopaths.”

He does agree that the tests can be useful in bringing forth suspicions that people have about other employees: “When good people are confronted about suspicions they may have, or even about direct knowledge of abuse perpetrated by others, they usually tell the examiner before the test commences. This can be valuable in directing an investigation,” he said.

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