Once More With Feeling

When parents repeatedly complained that a teacher was fondling their sons, school administrators and police officers looked the other way

Wade Hutchins' day of reckoning has arrived. The former teacher was to be sentenced June 19 for molesting more than two dozen boys at north Phoenix's Cactus View Elementary School.

A long prison sentence is a certainty.
The incarceration of a criminal--especially in such an emotion-charged case--often marks a turning point in the recoveries of victims and their kin.

But the Hutchins case has too many "ifs" for the wounds to heal so readily. And little boys weren't the only ones left with emotional scars.

The list of casualties includes Cactus View's principal, two Phoenix police officers and the parents of the abused boys.

Feuds over the handling of the Hutchins case are rampant in this mostly white, mostly middle-class community. Some insist principal Judith DeWalt failed to protect her students; others believe just as adamantly that she acted properly.

DeWalt's detractors say she and Tom Krebs, the Paradise Valley Unified School District's assistant superintendent of personnel, failed to respond to Hutchins' documented pattern of fondling students.

Cactus View parent David Cool, whose son was not a victim of Hutchins, went so far as to ask the Arizona Board of Education to revoke DeWalt's certificate. The board is scheduled to consider the matter June 24; an advisory committee has recommended against sanctions.

But Cool's views are hardly universal.
"It has been brought to our attention that a small group of parents feel that some of the Cactus View staff members acted negligently in matters concerning this case, and that our children's safety was in jeopardy," the Parent-Teacher-Student Association board wrote in a flier sent home with Cactus View's 800 students on April 11. "We wholeheartedly disagree with these sentiments."

The flier's timing outraged the case prosecutor and police investigators. Hutchins' trial--not a foregone conclusion at the outset--had started April 8, and only two of more than 20 alleged student victims had testified.

The disdain with which some parents and school staffers held the victimized youngsters and their families--people they consider to be gross exaggerators--was palpable.

But this was not another case in which overzealous investigators, prosecutors and confused parents cajole children into making outrageously false claims.

Once police finally realized the scope and gravity of the 28-year-old Hutchins' misdeeds, things went by the book.

But state law--and common sense--dictates what educators must do in cases of abuse. In a nutshell, the law requires school personnel to immediately report any suspected abuse to police or state Child Protective Services.

That didn't happen in this case.
There's no evidence that DeWalt, a veteran educator with a previously unblemished record, conspired with Hutchins to ensure his access to children. But her failure to take any significant action against Hutchins allowed him to abuse students at Cactus View for more than two years.

There was no physical evidence in this case, as Hutchins seemed to draw the line at fondling the genitals of his prey.

Apparently, DeWalt alone knew the extent of Hutchins' offenses. At the time of Hutchins' arrest in March 1995, that record included several complaints from parents about Hutchins' physical affections toward their young sons.

Until the end, however, DeWalt continued to laud Hutchins in job evaluations. One such positive review came in November 1994, just three weeks after she'd warned Hutchins he was on thin ice for repeated "inappropriate" contact with boys.

Investigators would later find such duplicity baffling and infuriating.
"I see a definite pattern to his behavior," a police detective told a school administrator after Hutchins' arrest. "I would think . . . that bells should have been ringing."

More than 1,000 pages of public records suggest that the bells were in fact ringing, but nobody in charge wanted to listen.

Judy DeWalt isn't the only one whose professional reputation has been tarnished. Phoenix police officers Gerald Funk, a school DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, and Eddie Rodriguez also failed to pursue solid leads against Hutchins.

Not surprisingly, several of Hutchins' victims and their parents have filed lawsuits against the City of Phoenix, the Paradise Valley school district and individuals.

But the victims' parents have their own crosses to bear: Before Hutchins' arrest, several of them told DeWalt they doubted their children's allegations.

"The school administrators were as derelict as [Officer Funk] and so on," says Hutchins trial juror Beverly Bright, a businesswoman. "Mrs. DeWalt's whole attitude before they arrested Hutchins was, 'Please don't make me look into anything off-colored. I have a cushy job.' And the police work was a disgrace before they finally got their act together. But what really grabbed us is how many of those parents didn't believe their own kids until it was too late."

Wade Hutchins graduated from Eastern New Mexico State University in 1989 with a degree in physical education. A year later, the Mosquero, New Mexico, school district hired him as a social studies/gym teacher. After one year there, he moved to Arizona and sought work.

Hutchins seemed a nice catch for the Paradise Valley school district as the 1991-92 year started. Young and eager, he was willing to work as a substitute until a full-time position opened.

One jarring note marred Hutchins' application. His written reason for leaving Mosquero: "Contract not renewed."

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