HEAR NOT EVIL

A DEAF STUDENT SOUNDED THE ALARM; A HUSH FELL OVER THE SCHOOL.

The police report chronicling the conversation between Phoenix police detective John Martin and Farman shows that Martin asked the principal if he knew of any other possible victims besides Michael Johnson. According to the report, Farman responded that the molestation was "an isolated incident, and [said] he does not know of any other victims"--this despite the fact that he now admits to New Times that the Johnsons had warned him about the possibility that the two little girls, Julie and Becky, had also been fondled.

Farman shrugs when confronted with the gap between what he knew and what he told police, saying that his memory from that week 18 months ago is "understandably a bit cloudy." He denies trying to impede or contain the investigation.

At the time, however, he acted decisively to quell rumors that were spreading about the alleged molestations. Although it must have been apparent to Farman during his June 9 conversation with Martin that a police investigation was ongoing, Farman on June 15 sent a note to parents of PDSD students--a terse, two-paragraph memo--that effectively pronounced the case closed.

"Shortly before school closed for the summer break," Farman wrote, "we learned of an incident that occurred on the school bus that your child rides each day between home and school. That situation was handled and the older boy who was accused by the younger student was removed from that bus.

"We have no confirmed reports of other incidents occurring and have received no complaints from other children on the bus."
Becky's father says the memo was his first inkling that something was wrong at PDSD. But he had no idea that his own daughter was involved.

"All we got was this vague memo about an 'incident,'" the father says. Neither Farman nor anyone from the school ever notified him of the ongoing investigation against David, or that his 7-year-old was a possible victim. He didn't learn that until Marci Johnson took it upon herself to contact him.

"The school had a moral and ethical responsibility to let these parents know what had happened and get these kids counseling," Marci says. "When they wouldn't call them, I did."
Farman's unwillingness to alert the police or parents and his evasiveness with investigators could be interpreted as standard-issue fanny-covering, prompted by an all-consuming desire to protect his institution from receiving a black eye.

Nichols, the HEARS leader, insists that such an approach is typical of the school's administration. "Whenever anything comes up, from a hangnail to a molestation, their approach is to deny it first and investigate it later, if at all," she says.

Chuck Johnson, a former member of the PDSD advisory board--a group of administrators, teachers and parents who counsel the school on policy issues--says there may have been an urgent financial component to Farman's inertia, as well.

During the summer of 1992, the school was fighting for its budgetary life against Project SLIM, Governor Fife Symington's cost-cutting juggernaut. "There was really a lot of pressure on the school," Chuck says. "To succeed in the funding game, it may have been thought that the molestation should be kept as quiet as possible in order to protect the school's image."

That image had already taken its share of hits. An independent audit of PDSD, commissioned by the state legislature in 1991, blasted the school for top-heavy bureaucracy, sloppy accounting and free-spending ways--including an incident where then-superintendent Barry Griffing allegedly misused more than $54,000 in travel funds. Griffing was forced to resign. (The superintendent's post was vacant when Michael Johnson's molestation allegations surfaced, and it remained vacant until September 1992.)

In the wake of the audit, "a molestation report on the nightly news was the last thing the school wanted," Chuck says.

Farman angrily denies that fears of a budget-busting scandal played any part in his decision to leave parents and police in the dark.

"I just felt," Farman reiterates, "that it wasn't my place to make the call [to police]."
Whatever the reason behind Farman's behavior, the Johnsons soon despaired of getting any cooperation from PDSD.

"I felt let down by the school," Marci says, "but I felt sure that the police would get something done."
As it turned out, the Johnsons would be disappointed once again.
@rule:

@body:Two days after Michael told his mother about the incidents with David, Marci phoned the Phoenix Police Department, which immediately dispatched an officer to the family's home. It was May 29.

The officer took down some basic information and promised detectives would soon be on the case. But it was 11 days later, June 9, that Detective John Martin telephoned PDSD to talk with Farman--the conversation during which the principal told the detective about David's confession.

After obtaining that startling bit of information, Marci Johnson was confident Martin would move quickly to interview her son, the girls whom he said had been attacked, and David. Instead, the investigation seemed to grind to a halt almost before it began.

Martin waited more than a month, until July 16, to interview Michael, who clearly and calmly recited his story. The same day, Martin talked to Becky, who told the officer that on at least four occasions, someone on the bus had removed her pants and touched her on the vagina and breasts. The 7-year-old girl was embarrassed and squeamish, but when the detective asked her who had touched her, she quickly replied, "David." The other girl, 10-year-old Julie, was unwilling to talk about the molestations, but did tell Martin that David had hit her during a bus ride.

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