Once More With Feeling

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

But the Paradise Valley school officials still weren't ready to report these chilling allegations to law enforcement.

"The vast majority of the initial complaints turn out to be unfounded," Krebs explained in his first interview with detectives after Hutchins' arrest. ". . . [but] looking at it and knowing what you've got today from those three or four parents, it certainly looks like more should have been done in January or October, or whenever it was. It's an easy call right now."

"Prior to these parents coming forward," the detective asked, "had you heard anything from any source, [about] inappropriate conduct or anything negative about Mr. Hutchins?"

"No, not once," Krebs replied, apparently forgetting the 1994 summary letter he instructed DeWalt to write, the DARE letters and other numerous complaints against Hutchins about which DeWalt had sought his counsel.

The Paradise Valley Unified School District never did report the allegations against Wade Hutchins. Instead, an outraged parent called police on the evening of February 24, 1995.

By that time, Krebs--again following district policy--had showed Wade Hutchins the completed "harassment" forms. That action gave a suspected serial child molester a rare opportunity to know exactly what his victims were saying.

On March 2, Phoenix police executed a search warrant of Judy DeWalt's office at Cactus View. At first, they couldn't locate Hutchins' personnel file. Finally, an officer found it inside DeWalt's briefcase.

She explained she'd taken it home so no one else could see it.

Spin control became the order of the day after Wade Hutchins' arrest.
Paradise Valley Unified issued fliers that included ironic comments about how its employees were cooperating fully with police.

The Phoenix police themselves were spinning about how Gerald Funk had failed to take action on the students' DARE letters. Spokesman Mike Torres claimed Jack's information had been vague.

"It wasn't, 'That guy touched me inside my clothes,'" Torres told reporters after parents learned of Jack's DARE letter. "It was more, 'He makes me feel uncomfortable.'"

How Torres knew this, since Jack's letter had vanished, is unknown. (Investigators wouldn't become aware of the second DARE letter, written by Denise, for weeks.)

The police didn't mention the previous investigative blunder that involved their own Detective Rodriguez. Detectives didn't learn of the 1994 Phoenix Parks and Recreation incident and the two brothers until the boys' mother contacted them shortly after Hutchins' arrest. (Two other Hutchins victims later emerged from the summer program. Rodriguez later was transferred out of sex crimes and Funk out of the DARE program.)

As it turns out, Rodriguez had spelled the suspect's name "Hutchens," with an "e" instead of an "i." The department's computers hadn't picked up on it.

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley provided his own bit of spin in declining to prosecute DeWalt and Funk for failing to report Wade Hutchins to the proper authorities. Romley wrote to their superiors to say that, for technical reasons, his office had determined "no reasonable likelihood of conviction" would ensue.

"Unfortunately," Romley added, "the decision to handle this incident at an administrative level within the school district did not allow a full investigation as contemplated by the Legislature."

The Hutchins case illuminates a huge loophole in Arizona's statutes on mandatory reporting of abuse. It comes in this clause: "Any [school personnel] having responsibility for the care or treatment of children whose observation or examination of any minor discloses reasonable grounds to believe" that the minor has been abused . . ." (Emphasis added.)

In other words, a school principal or any other official in Arizona may escape prosecution by claiming he or she failed for whatever reason to "observe or examine" a possible abuse victim.

That caveat has been raised by DeWalt's defenders.
In the wake of Hutchins' arrest, many of his student victims transferred out of the district. The victims' civil lawyers are putting their own spin on the case. They depict a world in which irate, frightened parents marched into Judy DeWalt's office and declared their sons were being sexually molested--without mentioning the doubts many once had expressed.

Even a parent whose child hadn't been molested entered the fray.
Within two weeks of Wade Hutchins' May 10 conviction, the state Department of Education's Professional Practices Advisory Committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony in a matter brought by David Cool against Judy DeWalt.

Cool, a Maricopa County employee with no legal training, is seeking sanctions against DeWalt.

"I have taught my son if he has a problem at school," Cool told the committee, "he can go to his principal or teacher and he will be in a safe haven and that he can trust them. That trust has been more than shaken. It's been shattered."

One of DeWalt's lawyers argued his client had acted admirably.
"She acted within the utmost morality," attorney Steve Leach said. "At no point, until the allegations leading up to [Hutchins'] immediate suspension, did Judy DeWalt ever hear that Wade Hutchins had touched the genitals of a child. . . . She knew she had a teacher in front of her who had given wonderful service to that community, to the Cactus View School."

Cool's heart was in the right place. But his emotions and lack of legal experience weighed against him. Leach overwhelmed Cool with superior oratorial and procedural skills.

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