Longform

Once More With Feeling

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"That's not how I remembered it at all," DeWalt replied.
"Would you agree with me that that letter doesn't really indicate that she said nothing happened?"

"Yes, after reading it, yes."
The principal decided this episode didn't merit a mention in Hutchins' personnel file. Instead, she wrote a glowing evaluation of the teacher, in which she commended his "dedication to Cactus View."

DeWalt never spoke with Mrs. M.'s son about the allegations, but if she had, it's doubtful she would have elicited much. Her lack of investigative expertise became evident after Hutchins' arrest.

A few months ago, an investigator asked DeWalt about her interview of a student that Hutchins would be convicted of molesting.

"Did anybody ever say, 'When he tucked your shirt in, did he touch your private area?'" DeWalt was asked.

"No," the principal replied. "I'm not that sophisticated."

Arizona's reporting statute is based on a sound premise--that law enforcement professionals must investigate allegations of crimes against children as soon as possible.

The law is blunt:
Anyone with responsibility for the care or treatment of a child and who has "reasonable grounds" to believe that a child has been abused must contact police or the state's Child Protective Services. The reporting must be done "immediately," followed by a written report within 72 hours.

It's a misdemeanor not to report such a conclusion.
But educators and police officers contacted by New Times say it's rare for reports to be made in a timely manner. Those sources also can't recall any examples of a school official being charged with failure to report.

In the Hutchins case, Paradise Valley administrators improperly allowed district policy to supersede state law. The policy called for school bureaucrats to conduct their own investigations before alerting police. (That policy has been changed.)

"I function as the investigator, the whole shooting match," assistant superintendent of personnel Tom Krebs told detectives. "I'll make a determination. If it's found against the employee, we'll send the information."

At the same time, Krebs defended DeWalt.
"[Judy's] impression was that the parents didn't believe the kids," Krebs said. "Now, if the parents don't believe the kids are telling the truth, that puts you in a funny situation. . . . In schools, we run into situations on a weekly basis where we're not sure what to do. Is this reportable or not?"

"Would you get a call every day about inappropriate conduct or touching by a teacher?" the detective replied.

"Probably a lot more often than you can imagine," Krebs answered.
In a separate police interview, however, DeWalt said she'd never faced problems of this magnitude with any teacher but Wade Hutchins. And his modus operandi continued unabated through the end of the 1993-94 school year.

A mother, Mrs. S., told DeWalt in the spring of 1994 that her son had complained that Hutchins had hugged and fondled him during a detention period. He was so upset he didn't want to return to school.

Mrs. S. claims she pursued the matter in person with DeWalt, a meeting the principal couldn't recall. In any case, DeWalt spoke to Hutchins about Mrs. S.'s son.

"I said, 'Do you have students in detention singly? If you do, you are not to do that.'"

A few weeks later, Hutchins received his year-end evaluation.
"Wade, congratulations on a successful year in physical education at Cactus View," Judy DeWalt wrote. "You have expanded the opportunities for our students."

That summer, Hutchins worked with children at a Phoenix Parks and Recreation center. In August 1994, a mother, Mrs. R., told Phoenix police that Wade Hutchins had molested her two young boys at the rec center.

Sex-crimes detective Eddie Rodriguez was assigned to investigate. Records show the detective spoke to the boys, then interviewed Hutchins by telephone for a few minutes before inexplicably putting the case on the back burner.

Though Rodriguez later admitted he knew Hutchins was a teacher, the detective never informed school officials of the allegations.

The 1994-95 school year wasn't a month old when Wade Hutchins became the focus of yet another set of complaints.

In late September 1994, a fifth-grade student, Jack, wrote a letter to a Phoenix police officer. The officer, Gerald Funk, was a 21-year veteran respected for his ability to communicate with kids. Funk was assigned to the department's DARE program, in which selected officers spend much of their time at public schools.

In 1994, Funk would be chosen as DARE's Officer of the Year, an irony considering what was to happen.

Much about Jack's letter to Funk--and a subsequent letter allegedly signed by four female students--remains shrouded in controversy. Both letters mysteriously have disappeared, and Officer Funk's recollection of the events is vastly different from principal DeWalt's.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin