CCSD promoted employee despite discovery of child porn on district laptop

posted by Carter Coyle, Reporter - 

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

Personnel documents and police records obtained by Live 5 News under the Freedom of Information Act show an employee whose district-issued laptop contained child pornography was not fired or suspended while the investigation was underway.

At least two children came forward saying they were sexually assaulted by that same employee in the meantime, showed police records.

Marvin Gethers worked for Charleston County Schools from 2000 to 2007 and from 2010 to 2016. According to his personnel file, his jobs ranged over the years from being a teacher assistant, student concern specialist, afterschool media assistant, tutor, Saturday School teacher and parent advocate.

On Jan. 27, 2014, a “CCSD IT Specialist was performing a routine virus scan of Marvin Matthew Gethers’ district-issued laptop,” according to a North Charleston Police affidavit filed in 2016. That IT specialist “observed that pornographic websites had been accessed on the laptop.” Further examination, the affidavit said, showed that some of the websites featured child pornography.

Investigators said the computer was turned over North Charleston Police on March 5, 2014, 37 days after the computer was seized.

The police incident report from that day listed Marvin Gethers as the suspect.

On March 6, 2014, NCPD Police detective submitted the computer for forensic analysis at the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.

It would take nearly two years for that analysis to return.

Our investigation shows Gethers continued working at the Elementary school and allegedly molested two children at the school while the investigation was in a holding pattern.

Laptop given to police after 37 days

It’s unclear exactly what steps the school district took during the 37-day timeframe between discovering the pornography January 27, 2014, and reporting it to police March 5, 2014.

In the police file, a witness statement from a police officer said, “The suspect at that time was put on Administrative leave until investigation. A month or so went by and I was informed the suspect was allowed to come back.”

The school’s principal recalled the timeline differently. In her witness statement to NCPD, she wrote, “[Gethers] admitted he was responsible” for the pornography on the laptop. “He told me it was done in the privacy of his home after school hours… I told Mr. Gethers to stay home until I learned what the next steps will be.”

“After approx. a week, Mr. Gethers returned to work,” the principal wrote. She said she wasn’t told the outcome of the investigation and never knew the pornography was anything other than adult content.

Several people at CCSD checked out Gethers’ laptop during that month before it was turned over to police. The chain of custody log shows the Employee Relations Director received it the day after the pornography was discovered. General Counsel John Emerson and paralegal Sherron Brightharp signed out the laptop in early February. It was turned back over to IT and then given to the police in March.

Gethers himself wrote a letter to the school district at that time apologizing for his “poor judgment in inappropriate use of the school’s property.”

He dated it January 31st, 2014.

The letter is included as evidence in the police file but was not in the personnel file CCSD provided to us under FOIA.

In his letter, Gethers said he accessed “adult content with adults only in its content.” He blames his weakness on a bitter way of dealing with the end of his 25-year marriage. “I ask for mercy,” he wrote. “Please forgive me please! Whatever course of counseling is available I would take at your recommendation. I pray that you will allow me this second chance.”

Gethers was allowed back to work at Dunston Elementary. His personnel file makes no mention of this brief absence or his date of return; it’s mentioned only in the police witness statements.

Gethers promoted to parent advocate

Before and after the pornography was discovered, Gethers was working as a Student Concern Specialist at Dunston.

On October 24, 2014, Gethers was offered a new job as Parent Advocate at Dunston. That position came with a salary of $55,434.

The promotion came ten months after the district alerted police to the child pornography discovered; the investigation of the computer was still underway.

Parents we interviewed after Gethers’ first arrest in 2016 said they knew him well. One parent said the weekend before the arrest, Gethers had taken her son home from a Stingrays game to save her the drive.

All of Gethers’ reviews provided in the personnel file appeared to be positive.

The Detective checked back with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office about the status of the computer several times, according to notes in the case file.

He was told there were “a recent series of homicides” taking precedence on the forensic exam waiting list.

In June 2014, the case was administratively closed until the report from the computer forensic exam was returned from Charleston County.

Gethers first arrested in 2016

NCPD investigators picked up the forensic analysis report of the school laptop on January 20, 2016.

Gethers was immediately arrested and charged with Third Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor.

“Multiple images were found showing children engaged in sexual activity with other children as well as images of children engaged in sexual activity with adults,” said the affidavit.

The school district terminated Gethers on January 22, 2016, after being notified of his arrest.

We obtained a copy of that forensic analysis from the Sheriff’s office. “This data contained 12,363 entries for pornographic websites and searches for pornography” the report said. It showed 9,504 pornographic images, 42 of which involved minors.” It also said there were 261 pornographic videos.

Child victims come forward

Within a week of Gethers’ arrest for the computer-related charge, police learned of two children who said Gethers molested them in Dunston Elementary.

Both alleged assaults happened in the school in 2015 in Gethers’ office.

The mother of the first victim saw news of the arrest and started talking to her child about interactions with Gethers because, according to her statement to police, her child was required to check in with him daily.

The mother said her child started disclosing disturbing descriptions of being molested.

The mother filed a report with police and her child underwent a forensic interview as part of the case.

The child also told police that Gethers took nude pictures of him in the school bathroom.

According to police reports, a second alleged victim told a peer at an afterschool program about being assaulted by Marvin Gethers.

A teacher overheard the conversation and reported it to her supervisor and to police.

The police files included a hand-written note from the victim saying, “Mr. Gathers [sic] touch where my in between in my legs. And he touch me where my butt was at.”

That child was also forensically interviewed.

Police investigated the claims, searched Gethers’ home, and ultimately charged Gethers with two counts of Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor and one count of First Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor.

The latter charge was in connection with the first victim’s claims that the suspect took nude pictures of him.

Gethers' attorneys maintain his innocence

Gethers plead not-guilty in court, but never had a chance to defend himself at trial. The Coroner confirmed he died of heart failure on July 13, 2017.

He was never convicted.

His attorneys said in a letter to us this week that their client was prepared to defend the charges and clear his name before he died.

They urged us not to air a story out of common courtesy for his family, who was very distressed about the situation.

Thursday, they threatened to sue Live 5 News if we moved forward with airing the story.

Victim's mother speaks out

The mother of one of the alleged victims agreed to speak to us on the condition of anonymity to protect her child’s identity.

“You have no idea the inner turmoil I have suffered,” she said. When her child first disclosed the alleged abuse, she said the world around her seemed to collapse. “Shock. Disgust. Lots of anger. But concern for my child. That’s a lot to put on a child.”

Until we started sharing the findings of our investigation with her, the mother was under the impression that the pornography was discovered and an arrest made within a matter of days. We showed her the documents we obtained that show the two-year investigative delay, and the statements and documents showing Gethers still worked at the school while he was under investigation.

“I was not aware of that,” she said. “I was not aware of that at all. Wow.”

Her child’s abuse allegedly happened during the 2015 school year, after the porn was discovered but before Gethers’ arrest and termination. “My child would have been safe. This whole situation could have been avoided. That’s horrible. That is very, very horrible.”

CCSD can't say who made decision

CCSD said they can’t tell us who made the decision four years ago to allow Gethers keep working while he was under investigation, or explain why that decision was made.

They said in a statement:

“We have provided the requested information per your FOIA requests. The district administrators who managed this incident are no longer employed with Charleston County School District, and as you are aware, Mr. Gethers is deceased. There is no other information that would provide an explanation to your questions. Also, there will not be anyone available to interview on camera.”

About a week later, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait did agree to make an on-camera comment about our investigation. She was not the Superintendent when the pornography was found in 2015, but was the head of the district when Gethers was later charged, arrested and fired.

She said she would handle such a situation differently. “My practice is to immediately place someone on administrative leave when pornography on a computer or any other form is involved. I can’t speak to what someone else might or might not have done. It boggles the mind to think that that would not have happened.”

School board member points to policy

We also shared our findings with School Board member Michael Miller. He does not remember when or if this case came before the board in 2014 but has concerns with how it was handled.

In retrospect, he said, Gethers probably should have been put on long-term leave pending the investigation. “To secure student safety first, even if it is an allegation, I think immediate suspension is warranted in my opinion… I’m a parent of a fifth grader. That’s something I would expect as well.”

Miller pointed out that CCSD’s employee policy specifically says “possessing or accessing material inappropriate for the school setting” is considered misconduct.

He quoted, “Violation of this policy by employees may be grounds for immediate suspension and possible termination.”

Even within the policy, he said, there’s not “a cut and dry direction that takes you straight from accusation straight to suspension or termination.”

He said it was important for all employees to have due process and that the district never takes leave or termination lightly.

When it comes to accusations of pornography or criminal conduct, he said, “Maybe we need to tighten this policy a lot more to give us more of a clear-cut direction.”

CCSD settles lawsuit with minor for $300,000

On March 28, 2018, the Charleston County School District settled a lawsuit with a Dunston Elementary student and his guardian who alleged “he sustained personal injuries due to repeated sexual assault” at the school during the 2015-2016 school year.

The school district denied liability and wrongdoing but agreed to pay $300,000 to the child for legal fees, expenses, medical costs, and a structured settlement for future costs benefitting the child.

How parents can take action

Michael Miller said he plans to discuss the Gethers case with fellow school board members and explore any necessary policy proposals that could help guide the district in future cases.

The Dee Norton Child’s Advocacy Center says if you suspect child abuse, contact the Department of Social Services in your county:

  • Berkeley 843-719-1158
  • Charleston 843-953-9422
  • Dorchester 843-821-0444

They say if you live in the Lowcountry area and need assistance with this process, call Dee Norton at (843) 723-3600. You can learn more about preventing child abuse at their website.

Advocates suggest if you live outside the Lowcountry, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD®.

Copyright 2018 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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