In 2016, a man repeatedly texted a girl, asking her to masturbate, call him ‘daddy’ and send photos of herself to him. He called her “sweetness,” “loveliness,” “baby,” “sweetie,” “sweet girl,” “pretty girl,” “beautiful” and “sweetheart.”
Later, the man them admitted to having sent these inappropriate messages.
Here’s the stunning news: He was a public school principal. His supervisors heard and supposedly ‘investigated’ complaints against him but took little or no serious action, so he kept working for four years.
In December, he was finally arrested. Next month, he’s in court, formally charged with sexually abusing a minor.
And here, according to ProPublica, is the short version of this painful story: “Christopher Carmichael, principal for one of Alaska’s largest rural elementary schools, in a region with some of the highest sex crime rates in the country and a state with a history of failing to protect students, was allowed to remain on the job until the FBI got involved.”
“In 2016, Carmichael admitted behavior to his supervisors that, under Alaska ethics laws for educators, could have cost him his teaching certificate,” ProPublica’s investigation shows.
But still, he was kept on the job at Gladys Jung Elementary School in the town of Bethel.
In cases like these, there are usually a number of villains. Sometimes, it’s a predator’s lazy, corrupt or incompetent colleagues, friends, co-workers, supervisors or local law enforcement. Sometimes, it’s lawmakers who, intentionally or not, essentially encourage bad behavior by carving out ‘exceptions’ for certain institutions with power and prestige (like churches or Boy Scouts) that basically make it harder to catch, prosecute, convict or sue wrongdoers. The list goes on and on. . .
But let’s focus on just one here: Carmichael’s boss, Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Dan Walker.
Walker said he called Carmichael into his office at the time of the state troopers’ investigation , and Carmichael admitted to sending the messages but claimed his judgment had been impaired by medication.
(Later, Carmichael also admitted to being attracted to kids.)
If media accounts are correct, it seems clear that Walker made at least three very disturbing decisions.
First, regardless of what criminal authorities did or didn’t do, Walker could have fired Carmichael and asked state officials to yank his teaching license. But he did not.
Second, Walker apparently didn’t tell his bosses, the school board, about Carmichael’s texts, admission or other complaints against him. So says Susan Murphy, who was board president in 2016 when state troopers first investigated Carmichael.
Third, even after Carmichael’s arrest and admissions, Walker praised him publicly, saying he had been an incredibly popular principal with students, staff and parents, had a solid reputation and “was well-respected by students, staff and parents.”
What’s wrong with these comments? They make it tougher for victims, witnesses and whistleblowers – in this case and others – to speak out. Imagine a suffering, abused teen reading or hearing this praise for an arrested predator from the top local school official, and thinking “Well, if they’re still defending and speaking so positively about this accused molester, will they do the same when I report the teacher who’s abusing me now?”
Ask yourself: “What possible good can come from saying nice things about an arrested and credibly accused child molester?” Who does such behavior benefit? Only those who ignored or concealed his crimes, by essentially implying “How could you expect us to suspect such a popular, charismatic guy?”
(Here’s at least one sliver of good news in all this horror: One LKSD assistant superintendent asked troopers to seize Carmichael’s work laptop and iPad. Detectives found no illegal pictures but confirmed Carmichael had sent the messages and Carmichael was briefly suspended. But remember, criminal charges or not, Walker and his staff could – and should – have started the process to yank Carmichael’s teaching license.)
And as if all this isn’t bad enough, consider this background about the area where Carmichael worked.
It’s called Western Alaska and includes isolated, icy Arctic villages and the seafaring Aleutian Island communities.
More teachers have been charged with sexual misconduct there, per capita, than any other region in the state, according to ProPublica. The region has a sexual assault rate more than six times the national average.
“Prior generations of children in the region suffered abuse at the hands of visiting Catholic priests, many of whom worked in village and regional schoolhouses. Separately, Alaska Native students from the region were plucked from their homes and shipped to boarding schools, where some were abused and many punished for speaking their indigenous language,” ProPublica reports.
It’s a region that seems ripe for predators and riddled with a long, sad history of crimes and cover ups.
(Recent abuse cases in nearby towns include Tuluksak teachers Martin A. Bowman and John Paul Douglas and Kwigillingok teacher Michael Wier. Wier worked for the same school superintendent, Walker, as Carmichael did).
We at Horowitz Law ache for the suffering of children everywhere. But we especially worry about and sympathize with kids in remote areas, which often attract predators who are particularly shrewd about concealing their crimes using their often considerable friendly personalities and demeanors.
(The Anchorage Daily News and KYUK public radio also contributed to exposing these heinous crimes.)