ELKINS - A former Elkins High School librarian facing charges of soliciting a minor student is accusing the Randolph County Superintendent of Schools of "railroading" him.
He claims he was fired with no chance to present his side of the story to the Board of Education.
Donald A. Johnson, 33, was arrested on July 16 and charged with one felony count of solicitation of a minor. Bond was set at $75,000 cash only.
"I just wanted my story to be heard. And I was never given that opportunity by (Superintendent) Mr. (Terry) George," Johnson said while being interviewed by The Inter-Mountain recently at the offices of his attorney, Rebecca Judy. Johnson said he requested to be interviewed in order to get his story out to the public.
During the interview he denied the allegations against him and said he believed George violated his rights by not allowing him an opportunity to be heard.
Asked later by The Inter-Mountain to respond, George said, "They may feel they want to talk about it in the paper but I cannot address it until the full adjudication of the issue and that's not been completed at this time."
Johnson's father, Don Johnson, the longtime principal/director of the Randolph Technical Center, who retired in June, also took part in the interview. He said he believed his son was being scapegoated as a result of his own professional disagreements with George.
George later responded, telling The Inter-Mountain "that is not true."
Donald Johnson said he was initially suspended with pay from his position as librarian/media specialist at EHS on May 1 amid allegations he provided alcohol to a student on school property.
On May 5, George notified Judy he was changing Donald Johnson's status to suspended without pay and recommending he be terminated, Judy said.
On July 16, Donald Johnson was arrested and charged with soliciting a minor, a felony. He posted bond and was released from Tygart Valley Regional Jail. In Randolph County Magistrate Court on July 17, he waived his right to a preliminary hearing. The cash only bond was modified to cash or surety.
On Aug. 6, the Board of Education voted 3-2 to ratify George's recommendation to terminate Donald Johnson. The meeting grew contentious when Judy was not allowed to speak on behalf of her client.
During the interview, Donald Johnson denied he gave a student alcohol at the school.
"I have never had alcohol at Elkins High School," Donald Johnson said. He also denied previous reports that he was escorted off school property by law enforcement officers on May 1.
"That never happened. There was never an arrest made at Elkins High School. I was never even talked to by any law enforcement," he said, adding that, to his knowledge, there were no police officers present at the school.
Donald Johnson said he was informed by school administrators of the allegation and was sent home. He
identified the school administration members as then-principal David Fincham, Russ Collett and Carla
Donald Johnson said he was accused of carrying alcohol in a water bottle and providing it to a student, but he also noted he was allowed to leave with his water bottle when he was sent home.
"There's no physical evidence of any of this at this time, or any of these allegations," Donald Johnson noted.
He said he and Judy met with George the next day, May 2, a Friday.
"He said he wasn't even sure of anything more than the allegation had been made; that he hadn't even spoken with the student who made the allegation,"
"On May 5 (Monday), Superintendent George called me and said he was changing the status to suspended without pay and recommending termination," Judy said. "Which kind of amazed me as an attorney, because when I left the board office that Friday at 10 a.m., they hadn't even started the investigation and I'm getting a call on Monday at noon."
Difficulty scheduling a hearing
Judy said state code dictates that a hearing should have been held before the Board of Education within 30 days regarding the
"Donnie was unavailable until July 7 due to health issues," she said. "We notified the board in the middle of June that he would be available on July 7, so they had six weeks to arrange a
"We had several (hearings) scheduled during that time and throughout all of those, there was failure to provide essential witnesses," Donald Johnson said. Judy indicated that four hearings had been scheduled and then canceled when requested witnesses could not be
Judy said according to state law for education employees, the hearing before the board is an opportunity for the employee to present his or her side of the story so the board can make a fair determination regarding
"Without those key witnesses, it wouldn't have been a fair hearing," she said.
In one instance, Judy explained, she was told an assistant principal was on vacation, or was thought to be on vacation.
"We know that's inaccurate because she showed up in Mr. (Don) Johnson's office in the middle of the day," Judy said.
Judy went on to explain that she was notified at 8:42 a.m. on a Monday morning that a hearing scheduled for the following day was
"The hearing's not until the next day at 4 p.m. so I requested they keep trying and they said no," Judy said.
She said one student canceled her plans so she could attend a hearing scheduled for July 8.
"When that hearing got canceled, I was told, and rightly so, she was upset. 'Why do I have to change my plans for them to cancel on me at the last minute?'" Judy quoted the witness as saying. After that, the witness was reportedly unavailable for subsequent dates. "We gave six weeks notice and a phone call could have confirmed all this," Judy said.
"I was available at any time for anything. I just wanted my story to be heard. I was never given that opportunity by Mr. George," Donald Johnson said.
Judy presented The Inter-Mountain with a series of e-mail messages between her and Board of Education attorney Greg Bailey which she said demonstrated how long and difficult the process of agreeing on a hearing date became.
George later said he was unaware of the emails.
"I did not take part in those conversations between Ms. Judy and my attorney, Mr. Bailey, so I can't comment on those conversations," George said.
Judy said she and her client requested both a hearing before the board, as provided for in state code, on the suspension, and a hearing under the Public Employees Grievance Procedure. A level one grievance requires a hearing by the chief administrator of the department or agency - in this case, the superintendent of schools. In cases where an employee is discharged or suspended without pay, the employee may proceed directly to a level three grievance, she said.
A level three hearing is held before an administrative law judge who may issue subpoenas for witnesses, limit witnesses, administer oaths and exercise other powers granted by rule or law, Judy said.
Donald Johnson's request for a hearing before the board on the suspension and termination was hand-delivered to the BOE office at 4 p.m. July 16, Judy said.
"And lo and behold, eight hours later, he's arrested in the middle of the night when we had already pledged our cooperation to the criminal charges. A search warrant was executed," Judy said.
Arrest on July 17
"I had been staying with my parents for the past six months," Donald Johnson said. "They actually came there and arrested me. They actually broke down the door to my house on Central Street that I'm in the process of remodeling."
"They did have a search warrant and it was totally legal," he said. "But we were fully committed to cooperating. That didn't have to
"Normally if the person knows of the allegation, there's no reason to do a surprise arrest," Judy said. "Normally process is, middle-of-the-night arrests are if the person doesn't know."
In regard to being arrested on the solicitation charge, Donald Johnson said, "I have no idea where it came from. There's no evidence of that. I had no problem handing over every piece of technology that I owned, knowing that there is nothing on there."
According to the criminal complaint, the alleged victim, a 16-year-old female, told Randolph County Child Advocacy Center officials she "had been engaged in a relationship with Johnson" from June 2013 to January. She reportedly told officials Johnson "obtained" her cell phone number and began calling and texting her.
The alleged victim said Donald Johnson "continuously engaged her in sexually explicit conversations, such as asking her what sexual positions she preferred," and asked her to graphically describe other sexual acts. She also said he asked her several times to send him pictures of her "posing in an inappropriate manner," and she sent him several photos of that type, the complaint states.
Donald Johnson told The Inter-Mountain this student was a different student from the one he was accused of providing with alcohol.
Judy said George "interviewed two students... one regarding the alcohol and one regarding the other" between July 4 and July 17.
Donald Johnson and Judy said they had been told the Aug. 6 hearing was canceled, but showed up for it anyway.
"Greg Bailey emailed me back and said Superintendent George has authorized me to inform you the hearing is canceled," Judy said. "And when we showed up at the board ..."
"(George) was shocked," Donald Johnson said, completing her sentence.
Judy said no witnesses were present to testify at the Aug. 6 hearing and neither she nor Donald Johnson were allowed to present information. She questioned how the BOE had enough information on the situation to vote to terminate her client's employment, noting the board members only met briefly in executive session during the hearing and there had been no previous hearings on the issue.
"I also feel that all of this has been an intentional scheme by Superintendent George to stop the Board of Education from hearing my side of the story," Donald Johnson said. "At every possible turn, every time we've tried to do something right, he has come up with another reason to stop me from addressing the allegations against me."
Donald Johnson was asked if he felt George had a personal grudge against him.
"Not against me personally," he said.
"He's collateral damage," his father, Don Johnson, said, claiming he and George have butted heads many times in the past on school issues, particularly over funding for the Randolph Technical Center.
"In this particular case, at no point or at no level were any of his rights observed," Don Johnson said of his son. "State code says that you cannot predetermine someone's guilt and clearly that happened."
Don Johnson said he spoke with George on May 5 about the allegations against his son.
"I went in to speak with Mr. George and I said, 'Where are we in this investigation?'" Don Johnson said. "And he sat back in his chair and he said, 'It's like this, social media has already tried and convicted your son and that's how it's going to be.' That's what the man said to me. If that's not predetermination, I don't know what is. And that's the reason I resigned... clearly he was
Don Johnson said he had - on "many occasions" - heard George say, "I don't get even, I get more than even and no one is going to cross me."
He noted that following his retirement, George in July tried - unsuccessfully - to convince the BOE to combine the principal positions for EHS and the Randolph Technical Center into one job. Don Johnson said the failure of that recommendation angered George.
"He really has paid a price for being my son," Don Johnson said. "That's what most of this has been about."
Asked later by The Inter-Mountain for comment, George denied Don Johnson's statements, but said he could not elaborate.
Donald Johnson said there are still legal avenues for him to attempt to clear his name.
"I'm not going away," Donald Johnson said. "This is not going away. Mr. George needs to realize that. Short of killing me, there's really not much more that he can do to me."
On Aug. 19, the BOE voted to abolish Johnson's former position of librarian/media specialist at Elkins High School.
"If nothing else, this has strengthened my faith in God," Donald Johnson said at the conclusion of the interview. "I didn't think things like this happened in America, but they do, everyday. And that's sad. But in the end I'm sure justice will prevail."