At a workshop on sex offenders sponsored by Criminal Justice Journalists last week in Miami, a police chief shared a cautionary tale: “I had some young gals in a middle school in my city who reported they were sexually assaulted by a teacher, and I had parents demanding that I arrest this teacher immediately,” said Port St. Lucie, Fla., chief John Skinner, who has 121 registered sex offenders living in his city of 140,000. “Well, it turned out these three young ladies had concocted the story because they felt the teacher was a geek. That gentleman was devastated.” Skinner said “there are some real issues out there on the part of law enforcement in ensuring that we do the right thing and conduct an accurate investigation.”
He might as well have been talking about the plight of Mathew Curran, a 53-year-old former St. Paul schoolteacher now in self-imposed exile in Ireland, says columnist Ruben Rosario of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. There is no worse crime to be accused of or shake off than child molestation. Curran, acquitted of such a crime this summer, knows this full well. He is a very bitter and angry man. And he may have good reason to feel that way. In May, Curran was stunned to learn that a 9-year-old girl in his fourth-grade class had accused him of fondling her during a kickball game on the school’s grounds and on two prior occasions. The incidents supposedly took place in front of up to 26 schoolmates. Two months after the arrest, a judge acquitted Curran. There was no trial, as we know it – no jury, no witness testimony at all. In an unusual proceeding, both sides agreed to submit written evidence and have the judge issue a ruling from the bench, which took about five minutes.