How could teacher under investigation be allowed into classroom?

Substitute teacher arrested on child porn charges

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Some parents in St. Johns County were upset a man accused of having child pornography could walk into their children's school as a substitute teacher while police were looking into allegations against him.

One woman in an email said, "I am appalled that he was even hired with an investigation going on. The police should have informed the schools so he couldn't have been hired in the first place. If you will watch a child being hurt physically and sexually he has the potential to hurt them himself. It's disgusting. The police should have done more."

So why was 26-year-old Matthew Atkinson, the man under investigation, allowed to teach?

Sgt. Chuck Mulligan, of the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, said the case had been on the radar since August, but deputies had no proof and they had just gotten a full name for the man witnesses claimed had the illegal videos.

One of Atkinson's former roommates said he found child porn on Atkinson's computer.

"After that, we kind of had a deliberation," the roommate, who didn't want to be identified, said. "We were like, 'This guy wants to be a teacher. We can't let this happen.'"

Deputies didn't have a current address or workplace for Atkinson, so they asked all deputies to be on the lookout.

"It wasn't until 9 o'clock Friday morning that the Sheriff's Office knew he was a recent employee of the school," Mulligan said. "And at the same time, the School Board would not have had knowledge that we were investigating an individual because at that point we didn't have probable cause to get a warrant, which would have basically been slanderous had we done it any other way."

Workers with the school district said they did a comprehensive background check with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI, and Atkinson's record came up clean. They said he had never been arrested before.

But once he was, although only accused, they say he was immediately taken away from students, arrested Friday at Gaines Transitional School, where he had only substitute taught once.

Investigators said they found sexually explicit videos of underage girls on Atkinson's hard drive. Deputies said he admitted to having and watching the videos.

"We have a very good working relationship with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, and certainly we were made aware as soon as his arrest happened and took swift action from that point forward," school district spokeswoman Christina Langston said.

Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson said some may think authorities could have done more, but he thinks they did everything right.

"On a background check, because a person wasn't officially charged, it's not going to appear there, so there are no red flags that are going to go up to indicate caution," Jefferson said.

Atkinson had recently finished training and had only taught four days, according to district officials. He taught at Gaines Transitional, Wards Creek and Mill Creek elementary schools.

The superintendent recommended he be fired Tuesday at a School Board meeting, and the board voted unanimously to fire him.

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