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July 28, 2014

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Teacher taboo: Legal woes mount in cases alleging inappropriate relations

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L.E. Baskow

Former Foothill High School teacher Amanda Brennan, who pleaded guilty to romancing a teenager, talks with her lawyer William Terry at her sentencing hearing Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

The day’s lesson might be about “The Great Gatsby” but no doubt at least one student is daydreaming, scribbling the name of someone she adores in a notebook. Crushes are part of classroom life. One week it might be the girl in math class and the next the lead in the latest vampire romance.

Sometimes, it might even be a teacher.

Such crushes mostly are harmless — unless the unthinkable happens. The teacher takes advantage of a student's admiration.

Then it becomes a crime that violates the public’s trust.

Allegations of inappropriate student-teacher relationships can land a teacher behind bars and out of a job in short order.

In the eyes of the legal system, the defendants are innocent until proven guilty. That said, the community holds teachers to higher standards. A criminal case against a teacher draws headlines and public vitriol.

Here is a look at some recent cases of inappropriate relations involving former Clark County School District teachers:

    • Michael Barclay

      Michael Barclay, who taught history at Lied Middle School and coached boys’ basketball, was arrested in September for allegations that he creeped out current and former students with sexual Facebook messages.

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      Michael Barclay

      One mother told detectives the teacher, 44 at the time of his arrest, had “graciously” offered to take her son to basketball practice while she was at work, according to a Metro police report. Eventually her son told her he didn’t want to be picked up by the teacher anymore and he became unusually angry, according to the report. During these rides Barclay — unbeknownst to the student's mother — would take the boy to his house, the mother reportedly told police. The mother told police the teacher also asked the student to perform oral sex.

      Barclay is charged with one count of first-degree kidnapping, one count of luring a child, two counts of attempt sexual assault of a child under 14 and two counts of attempt sexual assault of a child under 14.

      Barclay was placed on home assignment several months before his arrest in September 2013, according to Clark County School District officials. He was fired after the District Attorney’s Office filed formal charges.

      Barclay is due today in Las Vegas Township Justice Court for a status check regarding negotiations in the case.

      He remains on house arrest.

    • Melvyn Sprowson

      This former teacher’s alleged relationship with a 16-year-old was consensual in the eyes of the law — to a point.

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      Melvyn Sprowson looks on during a preliminary hearing on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.

      Melvyn Sprowson is accused of first-degree kidnapping, a life-in-prison offense, for harboring a runaway teen he was dating.

      Although in Nevada a 16-year-old can legally consent to sex, it is illegal to keep a minor from his or her parents, even if the minor consents, according to Nevada law.

      Sprowson also is charged with four counts of unlawful use of a minor in the production of pornography for alleged sexting with the teen and with one count of child abuse, neglect or endangerment with substantial bodily harm.

      The pair met on Craigslist, not the classroom, authorities said.

      The high school sophomore ran away from home in late August. Detectives eventually connected the teen to Sprowson, who, when interviewed at school, claimed he didn’t know the teen’s whereabouts. Shortly after that conversation, detectives found the teen at the teacher’s apartment.

      The cases highlighted how teachers facing criminal charges can be treated differently than other defendants.

      “I know that there is a presumption of innocence here; I understand that. But the problem I’m having with this is the nature of his employment, his dishonesty with the police when they first talked to him,” Las Vegas Township Judge William Kephart said when he set bail for Sprowson. “What he is doing in our community, what his job is in our community, he has somewhat of a higher responsibility to our children, I think, than somebody who is not educated.”

      Sprowson started work in August at Wengert Elementary School as a kindergarten teacher but is no longer employed with the Clark County School District. He came to Las Vegas after he resigned as a fifth-grade teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District in January 2013. During his nearly decade-long tenure in California, Sprowson faced allegations of sexual abuse involving female fourth- and fifth-graders. Sprowson was never charged and did not lose his teaching license.

      Sprowson is scheduled to go to trial June 2. He remains in Clark County Detention Center on $650,000 bail.

    • Amanda Nicole Brennan

      Amanda Brennan, 25, knew what she was doing was wrong. She did it anyway.

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      Former Foothill High School teacher Amanda Brennan, who pleaded guilty to romancing a teenager, listens to District Court Judge James A. Brennan's sentence verdict during her sentencing hearing Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

      The former Foothill High School teacher was sentenced March 18 to five years of probation for an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old student.

      Brennan told detectives she loved the boy and she knew it was wrong to date him, according to a Metro Police arrest report.

      According to Brennan’s police arrest report, the boy’s parents told a detective they first learned of the relationship in May 2013 when the boy asked one night if he could go to the movies with some friends his mother didn't know. That prompted the mother to talk to the security guard in their gated community, and the guard told her Brennan's name and age.

      The mother told the detective she and her husband became "concerned that there may be something more going on."

      The resulting police investigation unearthed 1,000 text messages between Brennan and the boy over a nine-day period.

      Brennan pleaded guilty in October to a felony charge of luring a child with intent to engage in sexual conduct.

      Brennan may reduce her conviction to a misdemeanor, provided she stays out of trouble. If Brennan violates her probation, she is looking at one to four years in prison.

    • Tanikka S. Queen

      The 22-year-old substitute teacher told detectives she’d just been giving a troubled student some extra attention.

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      Tanikka Queen

      The 15-year-old boy was trying to pass the eighth grade for the third time and asked for help with math, Tanikka Queen, a substitute in the district for about 13 months, reportedly told detectives.

      “Obviously, I am really young and he had a crush on me,” Queen reportedly told detectives of her relationship with the Hyde Park Middle School student. “He talks to me but not a lot of other people.”

      A concerned parent become suspicious, and statements from other students gave weight to rumors that the pair’s relationship went beyond the classroom, according to a Metro Police report. Officers launched an investigation that ended in Queen’s arrest March 11.

      The teen and his geography substitute began dating on Valentine’s Day, according to the arrest report. The alleged 12-day relationship has Queen behind bars on a $100,000 bail. Queen is charged with 29 criminal counts, including 12 counts of first-degree kidnapping, multiple counts of luring a child to engage in a sex act and statutory sexual seduction.

      The investigation revealed that Queen and the teen exchanged more than 2,400 text messages, called each other 108 times and sent each other 38 cellphone photos.

      According to the report, Queen sent messages indicating she knew the relationship was risky:

      “(Name redacted) You should know how I feel by now,” Queen wrote in one text.

      “I’m serious (name redacted),” she followed up. “I’m putting my job on the line talking to you so how can I not be serious.”

      A preliminary hearing is set for March 31. At that time a judge will determine if there is enough evidence against Queen to send her to trial. Queen remains in Clark County Detention Center on $100,000.00 bail.

    • Alphonso Washington

      A fired Las Vegas middle school teacher and coach contends he didn’t act inappropriately with a 14-year-old student; the public attention on the case just made fighting the charges too risky.

      Alfphonso Washington

      Alfphonso Washington

      Alphonso Washington, a former girls’ basketball coach at Lied Middle School, pleaded guilty in February through an Alford plea to one count of open and gross lewdness.

      Courts treat an Alford plea as a guilty plea, though the defendant does not admit to the charges and asserts his innocence.

      Washington's attorney Michael Gowdey said the allegations against his client, who was arrested in August 2013, weren't strong, but the media attention and Washington’s occupation as a teacher made the situation tough for him.

      According to court records filed by prosecutors, Washington kissed the student on the cheek, touched her buttocks over her jeans, fiddled with the buttons on her jeans, made sexual comments toward the student and sent her text messages asking for nude photos.

      The Clark County School District hired Washington in January 2003 and placed him on paid administrative leave when police opened the investigation, school spokeswoman Melinda Malone said. CCSD terminated Washington's employment on Sept. 30.

      Washington, 47 at the time of his arrest, most recently worked as a special-education teacher at Lied Middle School.

      Washington is scheduled to be sentenced June 9. As part of a plea deal, he will have the right to argue for probation.

      Should he be granted probation, Washington will have to register as a sex offender. If he successfully completes his probation, prosecutors will allow him to withdraw the Alford plea and instead plead to a gross misdemeanor charge of unlawful contact with a child. Since unlawful contact with a child is not a sex offense, Washington would no longer have to register as a sex offender.

      Washington remains free on a personal recognizance bond.

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