TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard has begun termination proceedings against Robert Yerton. He’s the assistant principal accused of sexually molesting children at Skelley Elementary. Yerton is behind bars, charged with lewd molestation and child sexual abuse. He has been on paid leave from the school since the accusations surfaced. As F
ox 23’s Douglas Clark reports, new questions are surfacing about what TPS knew and when about the allegations.
Yerton was suspended on April 27th
after TPS received a warrant to search his office and computer for evidence of lewd acts with a child. TPS says this was the first time administrators had ever heard anything that would indicate yerton was accused of criminal abuse of a child.
But according to a police affidavit, six months earlier, on October 22nd
, a school counselor reported witnessing Yerton inappropriately touch a six-year-old male student. The counselor reported the incident to the principal.
“He should have been laid off right then. Let’s prove everything is okay before letting him around our children. It’s just inexcusable. Someone should have come to us and told us,” says parent John Merrick.
So why does there appear to be a six-month gap between the time the principal was notified and TPS claims to have been informed of alleged wrongdoing? TPS released the following statement: "At no time prior to the district’s receipt of the search warrant affidavit did any employee, parent, friend, or any other person make any allegation of lewd molestation or criminal behavior to any district or school personnel about Yerton. If such allegations had been made, any witnesses to such behavior would be required by law and by TPS board policy to report their concerns directly to the Department of Human Services. No such report was made by any complaining party."
Meanwhile, FOX 23 has learned more about Yerton’s past. For more than a decade, he worked with local Boy Scout Troop 26. He worked with 11-18 year olds and resigned voluntarily early this year. A spokesperson for the Boy Scouts says they performed periodic criminal background checks on Yerton, which came up clean. We’re told scout leaders never heard about or saw anything indicating Yerton had inappropriate relationships with his scouts.
Yerton also worked at the Garnett Church of Christ between 2005 and 2007. A spokesperon says the church has no knowledge of any sexual misconduct by robert yerton during his tenure on staff and membership at the church.
TPS released the following lengthy press release late Thursday afternoon:
NEWS RELEASE – District Investigations into Concerns Regarding Skelly Employee
Tulsa Public Schools
3027 S. New Haven Ave.
Tulsa, OK 74114
For immediate release: Thursday, May 6, 2010
"In response to items listed in an arrest affidavit issued on Wednesday, May 5, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard has initiated termination proceedings against a Skelly Elementary School assistant principal.
On April 27, 2010, a Tulsa County District Judge authorized the Tulsa Police Department to search the office and computer of Robert Yerton, Jr., assistant principal at Skelly Elementary School, 2940 S. 90 E. Ave. The search warrant stated, “…items requested to be seized are items which tend to show that a violation of Lewd Molestation of a Minor Child of the Oklahoma statute [sic] has occurred.” At no time prior to the district’s receipt of the search warrant affidavit did any employee, parent, friend, or any other person make any allegation of lewd molestation or criminal behavior to any district or school personnel about Yerton. If such allegations had been made, any witnesses to such behavior would be required by law and by TPS board policy to report their concerns directly to the Department of Human Services. No such report was made by any complaining party.
Immediately upon receipt of the search warrant on April 27, Tulsa Public Schools suspended Yerton pending further possible action.
Since April 27, members of the media have requested under the Oklahoma Open Records Act electronic and written documents which relate to allegations against Robert Yerton, Jr. While the philosophy of Tulsa Public Schools is one of openness and transparency with the media and public, the district’s legal counsel has advised that the documents relate to an internal employment investigation and are privileged under §24A.7 of the Act, which states: “A public body may keep personnel records confidential: 1. Which relate to internal personnel investigations including examination and selection material for employment, hiring, appointment, promotion, demotion, discipline, or resignation.”
TPS has opened three distinct investigations into various allegations originally made by one Skelly employee against Yerton. The district continues to investigate the issues surrounding the most recent allegations. Because personnel investigations are privileged under the law, evidence which may or may not exist as to specific allegations will not be discussed; however, school and district employees did adhere to all state laws and district policies throughout all three investigations. The October allegations recently made public by the District Attorney's office included what a district staff member called inappropriate touching of male students which included rubbing and hugging on the outside of their clothes. Those allegations first appeared in a written e-mail from the complaining employee dated October 22, 2009. That e-mail caused the first investigation.
The Skelly school principal began to investigate the allegations against Yerton on October 22, 2009. These allegations did not involve charges of criminal conduct or child abuse. In fact, when the principal pointedly asked during the investigation whether the employee perceived that Yerton’s actions were criminal in nature, the employee stated that she did not believe anything illegal had taken place. The district has confirmed that the complaining Skelly employee did not make any reports to DHS of alleged child abuse or lewd molestation of any child against Yerton, even though she has been trained to do so. The first investigation ended on approximately October 27 with appropriate disposition as required by board policy.
The second investigation time period began February 23, 2010, after the same Skelly employee reiterated allegations previously administratively handled by the Skelly staff in October. In addition, the employee, for the first time, produced unsigned, undated, typewritten statements which she claimed were from other staff members. These anonymous statements discussed some of the earlier allegations made in October and also raised a new, unrelated allegation against Yerton. None of the anonymous statements alleged criminal or child abuse. Further, none of these employees contacted DHS and alleged or claimed child abuse by any school employee against any Skelly student which would be required by law and board policy if these employees truly believed that child abuse had occurred. The second investigation was conducted by both Skelly and district administrators. The campus police chief and the director of compliance reviewed the anonymous statements and the information provided by the complaining Skelly employee and found no allegations of child abuse. As a result, the second investigation ended approximately March 9 with appropriate disposition as required by board policy.
The third investigative time period began April 14, when the same Skelly staff member again asserted the October allegations against the employee in question. The third investigation is currently ongoing by district administrators and its legal counsel. In the course of the current investigation, the search warrant was served and Yerton was suspended. The search warrant issuance was simply the trigger that resulted in the suspension of Yerton, who was still under investigation from April 14. The investigation by the TPS administration was and is a “work in progress.” Skelly and TPS administrators learned for the first time on April 27 that Yerton was being investigated for allegations of lewd acts against a Skelly student. While a Skelly employee had complained about Yerton and had produced anonymous allegations from other staff members, none of the complaints submitted to Skelly and TPS administrators alleged criminal acts, child abuse or lewd molestation.
District officials have fully cooperated in the ongoing police investigation of Robert Yerton, Jr. On April 22 and April 23, TPS provided all documents requested by the police. TPS administrators have also been interviewed by police detectives. Complete cooperation will continue in order to ensure investigators obtain a complete, accurate picture of all circumstances surrounding the allegations.
All documents of which TPS is currently aware regarding the investigation clearly fall within the three administrative investigation time periods as outlined above. As result, all documents regarding the district’s confidential internal personnel investigations are privileged and confidential under the law. While the district can publicly acknowledge that the investigations were conducted, the results or resulting administrative actions, if any, are confidential under the law.
Tulsa Public Schools is committed to delivering quality learning experiences to each and every student in a safe, secure and healthy environment. The district maintains an unwavering expectation that every employee conduct himself or herself in a manner that honors education and children. The district will vigorously investigate each and every claim of abuse against children and, as a result of this incident, is reviewing training policies and procedures that pertain to reporting child abuse. TPS appreciates the diligence and thoroughness of Tulsa Police in their efforts to protect and serve citizens and we support their efforts in this investigation."