So this time the teacher’s name is Dr. Jayson Reed. According to my law enforcement sources, Reed is accused by at least five different female students (a number now most likely in double digits, thanks to new information) of inappropriate intimate contact with them, during school hours, going back at least 15 years. The award-winning math teacher at A.R. Johnson Magnet School remains in jail facing multiple charges generated by these allegations at this writing, and there may very well be more allegations filed before all is said and done.
While I would like to be able to tell you these charges come out of the blue, and without prior warning, that is the furthest thing from the truth. Two letters of reprimand involving some of these accusations go back to 2001, and list the initials of multiple students reporting the highly inappropriate behavior of Dr. Reed.
Over the 2016 Christmas break, the mother of a recent Johnson graduate discovered evidence that her daughter may have been engaged in similarly illicit and illegal behavior with Reed during her time as a student at the school. That parent’s report to law officers was what prompted the recent arrest.
Officials within the current administrations, both at the school and the downtown headquarters of the Richmond County Board of Education, have been stuttering and stammering when asked about how all this happened, blaming much of it on the fact that Reed’s “original sins” occurred under different leadership at both the school and central office level. Such denials are of little comfort to the victims and their families, and the thousands of other students who have apparently been put at risk by being in the presence of an individual who may be capable of such behavior.
So here is a fair question: How many more of these sleazebags are currently on the payroll, under contract to teach (or administrate, or drive a bus, etc., etc.) in Richmond County schools, with similar accusations in their personnel files?
It is particularly disturbing to me to have to ask this, but after the public revelations in 2014 of similar accusations of misbehavior, buried in the BOE personnel files of one of this area’s most prominent former educators, it is clear that it needs to be done.
From my column in 2014 that reported the sordid details, allow me to refresh your collective memories…
The town has been abuzz since Tracey McManus’s well-written expose centering on serious sexual abuse allegations against Augusta’s local NAACP President Charles Smith ran over the weekend. The two-part Augusta Chronicle article took several months to put together, and leaves not only Smith, but a number of other local leaders looking pretty bad.
While he is innocent until proven guilty, there seem to be many (more than 10) more allegations similar in detail and seriousness being lodged against Smith for his behavior while serving as one of the most respected and well-known educators. As the band director at T.W. Josey, and the creator of The Sonic Boom of the South, there were few who were as beloved as Smith.
When allegations of his misconduct toward female students surfaced 13 years ago, few had any idea of the depth or the quantity of the claims. Most heard his troubles had something to do with “harassment,” which can be defined as many rather mundane and routine acts, as compared to full blown “sexual congress with students,” which we now know were exactly the allegations he faced.
I am told then-Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dr. Charles Larke, no stranger to sexual misconduct charges himself through the years, wanted Smith fired. Smith pushed back, demanding a hearing on the matter, and that was when things got sticky. Smith hired the infamously brilliant attorney Jack Long to handle his case, and it looked like an open hearing was just days away when “cooler heads prevailed.”
The sitting school board at the time was purposely kept in the dark as to the nature of the charges against Smith because they were in fact required to sit as the “jury” if is termination hearing went forward. Bottom line, they didn’t have a clue how serious the charges were going to be. I am told BOE attorney Pete Fletcher strongly advised Larke to settle the case because, if he didn’t, the stories the victims would be telling in open session would not only tear the community apart, but serve as the “dinner bell” for attorneys who would then seek millions in damages against the system on behalf of those same victims.
Long reportedly knew this would happen, so when Fletcher and Larke suggested a deal to allow Smith to quietly put in time toward his system retirement working at the transportation office and away from students, he recommended Smith take the deal and run with it.
Ken Echols was a member of the RCBOE back then, and he said after all was said and done, they were never told of the seriousness of the allegations against Smith.
“We were told it was some kind of harassment situation, but we were not told the severity of the situation, or that minors (students) were involved. Basically we were told it was “no big deal…” He went on to add, “…Obviously, we were deceived!”
Smith did his time until retirement “pumping gas” (Fletcher’s words at the time), and collecting veteran teacher’s pay in the process, and then assumed a position at Paine College for a time, eventually becoming the local president of the NAACP.
As you know by now, he was never criminally prosecuted for his alleged behavior at Josey, and now that many women are making their claims against Smith public, everyone wants to know why the cops failed to move forward with a case. The BOE settlement would have no effect on his criminal prosecution, of course, so why didn’t one happen?
Long story short, because no female victims came to police to detail any felonies taking place. Despite all the rumors and the reports that Dr. Larke had in hand, which I believe he should have immediately turned over to law enforcement, no girls or parents ever reported conduct regarding Smith that was anything more than “dirty talk” and “aggressive hugging.”
In this day and age, failure to report allegations of sexual contact between teachers and students is itself a crime. Larke did not report it to local investigators, at least not to the ones outside his own homegrown BOE police force.
Then again, neither did anyone else. That is baffling to me. All these allegations, and all these years, yet no real complaints filed to the proper authorities. Whispers and rumors were making the rounds, but the time elapsed has allowed the statute of limitations to expire, which means even if filmed evidence of the crimes were presented, Smith could not be charged.
By the way, Georgia law has changed in that regard, and time is not a factor in moving forward with similar cases in the future. That law was changed, in no small part, thanks to the efforts of my former colleague Scott Hudson. Scott suffered at the hands of a molester decades ago, and that man escaped unpunished because of the time consideration. South Carolina law, thank God, did not allow a similar fiend refuge when his crimes came to light in 2007.
Seven years ago in these pages I had some pretty harsh words for accused North Augusta child molester Ed Meloan. The long-retired TV production technician was an old man in a wheelchair when he was finally brought to justice for crimes committed decades before against who knows how many young boys, who he was able to lure into his home largely because he played the part of Channel 12’s Saturday night Shock Theater movie host, Count Justin Sane.
Back in the pre-cable days of the ‘60s and ‘70s, he was a pretty big deal to young people all over the CSRA.
As the accounts of a handful of his accusers played out, many more came forward, and many more after that privately acknowledged similar advances made against them, even if they were unwilling to personally come forward.
Meloan pled guilty to enough crimes to keep him in jail for the rest of his natural life, which hopefully will be running out any minute.
The Ed Meloan story is important to keep in mind as the Charles Smith situation plays out for several reasons, but mainly to remind us that while cases like this are thankfully rare, they are not impossible.
I wrote back then a message that I reemphasize now, with Smith’s name, if he is guilty, interchangeable with Meloan’s:
“There are grown men and women in every corner of this community that were once victims of sexual predators in ways some of us could never imagine. It is imperative that these people report their stories to the proper authorities, and that their tormentors are identified.
Had just ONE of Meloan’s dozens of victims had spoken out decades ago, there is no telling how many boys would have been spared his disgusting proclivities, and how many lives could have been saved. Victims in such cases have a responsibility to recover, and then as soon as humanly possible, report.
It may be difficult to put that kind of pressure on a teen, or a child even younger, but certainly as maturity comes and as the birthdays pass, there comes a time when they understand what happened to them was wrong, and the wrongness is only compounded by their silence.
Meloan conducted his criminal campaigns 30-40 years ago. How many suffered needlessly? How many victims were created by the silence?
It is a realization that has brought the truth out of one man. He told his story to lawmen this week. How many other stories are yet to be told?”
It has become abundantly clear to me that the Richmond County School System has had administrators in place both past and present that were entirely capable of sweeping these kinds of crimes under the rug, allowing victims to go untreated, justice to be denied and, most tragically, enabling and empowering sexual predators to satisfy their depraved cravings without fear.
It is time for the parents of Richmond County to demand that individuals such as Jayson Reed be purged from the BOE payroll and, more importantly, that the administrators who believed the presence of such shady characters in the classrooms of Augusta represented an “acceptable risk” also be removed from positions of authority in our fair city.