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Utah school accused of failing to report possible sex exploitation by adult to police

Utah school accused of failing to report possible sex exploitation by adult to police (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) For a full week, the superintendent of the Daggett County School District and the principal of Manila High School knew that a 21-year-old man may have been texting nude pictures of himself to a 13-year-old girl, and didn’t tell police or the girl’s guardian.

The district said it was conducting its own investigation to find out the veracity of the charges, but the grandfather of the girl said during the time of that internal investigation, the man and the girl continued to exchange pictures. According to a police report obtained by 2News, The Daggett County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous tip about the pictures and began an investigation.

Police interviewed Manila High School principal Guy Gonder who, admitted he’d known about the charges.

“Principal Gonder said he had known about this incident for about a week,” the report says.

The admission prompted the investigator, Bryan Smith to confront Gonder.

“When I expressed concerns about child safety and ask why the incident had not been reported to law enforcement, Gonder said he had been instructed by county superintendent Bruce Northcott to handle this incident in house.”

So the district apparently kept the allegations quiet despite a state law the required anyone who suspects child sexual abuse or exploitation to report it to law enforcement immediately or face a Class B Misdemeanor.

The girl’s grandfather and legal guardian, Jack Searle, can’t believe he and law enforcement was left in the dark about the alleged crime.

“It’s their job to protect every child there is in that school -- every student, period -- legally and morally,” Searle said.

The Daggett County superintendent Northcott, told us he wanted to look into the picture scandal before calling in law enforcement.

“First thing you have to find out, is if there’s any truth to an allegation. So you have to find that out,” Northcott said.

2News reporter Chris Jones challenged Northcott’s handling of the investigation during an exchange at his office in Manila, Utah.

Jones: The district didn’t report it to police?

Northcott: I didn’t, I don’t know.

Jones: But how come, why not?

Northcott: I don’t know.

Jones: You have a moral and legal obligation to protect these children, right? Why would you not report this to the police?

Northcott: I don’t know, you don’t know, you’re catching me off guard.

According to sources, a criminal investigation is underway into the 21-year-old man who Searle said was sending pictures to his granddaughter, and, perhaps more importantly, into the way the district handled the investigation.

Searle wondered what would have happened if that anonymous source hadn’t reported the allegations to police. He wonders what might have happened had the relationship continued between his granddaughter and the man.

“Do they have to find a kid in a ditch before it wakes them up? But they need to be woke up, period,” Searle said. “I think their way of handling things in house is nothing more than sweeping it under the rug and lets pray it will all go away which it’s not."

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