Saturday, May 11, 2002

Schools lose 3 officers after accusations

Oversight may be reviewed, but programs remain

By Sheila McLaughlin,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Their jobs were to help kids resist drugs, set a good example, and to foster trust between students and police.

[photo] Mason Police Sergeant Michael Downey speaks with sixth-graders Emilee Slowik (left) and Kristen Pucke.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        Instead, three officers who were assigned to seven schools in Warren and Butler counties have been removed within the past month after allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.

        Now, while police commanders grapple with whether they need tighter controls on their school resource and DARE officers, local educators say that despite the alarming cases, the programs have too much merit to take police out of their schools.

        They say the incidents — all unrelated and coincidental in their timing — haven't undermined their faith in police or the anti-drug program, even though police officials have been worried that it would.

        “The hard part may be to make people realize, let's not paint the barn the same color because there was a little piece of it that had a problem,” said Vince Roessner, superintendent of the Warren County Career Center.

        Last week, the vocational school's 29-year-old resource officer of three years, Warren County Deputy Shawn Bray, resigned after being accused of making lewd comments to female students and shunning his duties.

Warren County Deputy Michael Krznarich, 34

Assignment: DARE instructor at Columbia, Pennyroyal, Anthony Wayne, Hunter and Waynesville elementary schools.
    Accusations: Sexual harassment. Sixteen teachers from Columbia, Pennyroyal and Waynesville elementary schools said he made lewd remarks, gestures or suggested to some that he wanted to have an affair. Two teachers said he touched them, including pulling up the jumper of one of the teachers. Making remarks with sexual innuendos in front of students. Making inappropriate comments in a DARE class about how girls join gangs. Lying to internal investigators.
    Job status: Internal investigation sustained allegations. Fired on May 3.

Warren County Deputy Shawn Bray, 29

School Resource Officer at the Warren County Career Center
    Accusations: Making sexual explicit comments to or in the presence of 11 students, including remarks that two female students should make a sex video for him, and referring to a group of 10th graders who were touring the school as “new meat for next year.” Sent personal e-mails and instant messages to students. Allowed students to use his office computer without supervision. Wrote inappropriate passes for students to get out of class or leave school early. Failed to respond to emergency calls from school administrators and file an accident report at the school. Lied to internal investigators.
    Job Status: Resigned after an internal investigation sustained the allegations.

Fairfield Officer Thomas E. Lucas, 35
DARE Officer at Fairfield Intermediate School since 1999.
   Accusation: Sexual misconduct with a minor at another school. No other details released.
   Job Status: Paid administrative leave pending internal and criminal investigations.

        Then, another Warren County deputy, Mike Krznarich, 34, was fired May 3 for making allegedsexual remarks to 16 teachers in the Kings, Wayne and Franklin school districts where he taught the DARE program for years.

        In yet another incident, Fairfield DARE Officer Thomas E. Lucas, was removed from his job at the intermediate school because of allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor student who attends another school. Police officials there say the allegations against Officer Lucas constitute a crime, if true, but did not involve his work in the district.

        In all instances, the officers were immediately replaced.

        Another Fairfield city officer took Officer Lucas' place at the intermediate school. In Warren County, Sheriff Tom Ariss sent a deputy with experience as a school resource officer to the Career Center. Seasoned DARE officers from other departments — Sgt. Michael Downey from Mason and Bart Dunavent from Lebanon — stepped in to complete the 17-week program that Mr. Krznarich had started a week or two before.

        Warren County Deputy Tim Walker, who was just certified to teach DARE and is still in training, will take over the programs next year. But sheriff's officials said they may have to cut back unless they can get another deputy selected and trained by then.

        Sgt. Downey, who taught DARE for seven years at Mason Intermediate before being promoted and sent back to road patrol a year ago, said he received a warm reception from administrators, teachers and students at Columbia Elementary, despite the awkward circumstances. The majority of teacher allegations against Mr. Krznarich came from that school.

        “The kids were inquisitive. They were concerned. They were worried, but it was nothing major, nothing overwhelming,” he recalled of his first days in class. Students were told very little about what had happened, he said.

        “It reflects negatively on DARE. But if you really look at the big picture, it really doesn't have anything to do with DARE.”

        Fairfield Superintendent Robert Farrell agrees.

        “We're going to continue the DARE program and be supportive of the DARE program because we feel it helps our students. It has a longstanding positive tradition here,” he said.

        Even though DARE officers go through a selection process that includes approval by their chiefs and Ohio DARE — a collaboration between the attorney general's office, Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police and Ohio Department of Education — Mr. Farrell suggests that process should be “more intensive.”

        For the most part, eligible officers must work full time, have two years of uniformed street experience and no disciplinary actions within three years. Once approved, they receive 80 hours of DARE training at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.

        Capt. Mike Gardner, who supervises school officers for the Warren County agency, said he is embarrassed by the incidents that caught everyone by surprise.

        He said he kept tabs on his school officers, regularly checking on them and soliciting feedback from principals and superintendents. There was no indication of any problems until February, when the allegations about Mr. Bray and Mr. Krznarich surfaced.

        “It's going to be a while before we recover,” Capt. Gardner said.

        “I'm very upset that many innocent people have been, at the very least inconvenienced, but even more so, that they've lost their sense of certainty and belief in an institution.”

        Col. Del Everett, chief deputy in Warren County, questioned whether closer supervision is the answer.

        He noted that Mr. Krznarich was teamed with another deputy who was training to be a DARE officer. Yet, nothing occurred in front of the colleague, who eventually reported the complaints he heard from teachers.

        Reporter Janice Morse contributed to this story.


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