At least seven Iowa teachers who have been found guilty of sexually abusing their students have avoided serving time behind bars, even though Iowa law specifies that such people must serve prison time and are not eligible for probation or other lesser sentences.
As The Des Moines Register reports, Iowa has, since 1997, required that anyone who is a mandated reporter of sexual abuse cannot, if they are themselves found guilty of sexual abuse of children, avoid prison time. Further, the law specifies that their convictions cannot be expunged once their sentence is served. A mandated reporter is a person, such as a school teacher, day care worker, hospital worker, or social worker, who is required by law to report any suspicions of child abuse to the authorities. Specifically, they are required to report the abuse to the Iowa Department of Human Services within 24 hours of hearing about it.
The law was intended to hold people who are entrusted with the care of children to a higher standard by making it impossible for them to avoid prison time. However, in at least seven cases, it appears that judges, juries, and prosecutors failed to get the memo.
In one case just adjudicated earlier this summer, physical education teacher Chad Osler pleaded guilty to having a sexual relationship with a student between 2013 and 2015. As The Des Moines Register reported at the time, he was sentenced to ten years in prison and fined $1,000. However, the judge in his case suspended the prison sentence and ordered him to serve five years’ probation.
In another case, reported by The Sioux City Journal, teacher Samantha Kohls pleaded guilty to lascivious conduct with a minor after she was caught having sex with a 17-year-old male student at her apartment. The judge in her case, District Judge Jeffrey Neary, said that the loss of Kohls’ teaching license, registering as a sex offender, one year’s probation, and a $315 fine were enough punishment.
“There’s not much more that I can do as far as a penalty.”
In fact, by Iowa law, Kohls should have done time in prison.
So how are these teachers avoiding prison time? As it turns out, some of the judges are completely ignorant of the law.
Neary, the judge who failed to put Samantha Kohls in prison, claimed he never heard of the law, insisting that he takes his cues from prosecutors when considering sentencing.
“Legitimately, I have not studied or looked at that specific statute as to that mandatory versus discretionary reporter. Frankly, I don’t think I was probably aware of that distinction or that nuance until probably after that.”
Des Moines defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown, who represented at least two of the teachers who were allowed to avoid prison time, similarly admitted to being ignorant of the Iowa law.
“I think there was a mistake on all three parts: the attorney general’s office, me and the judge. None of us knew about it, frankly.”
What will happen to Kohls, Osler, and other Iowa teachers convicted of sexual abuse who managed to avoid prison time, now that the Register has pointed out that they were sentenced improperly? Apparently, no one knows for certain and according to law professor Bob Rigg, the issue has never come up in Iowa.
“I’ve been looking at case law, and I just don’t think this specific issue has been raised.”
At the very least, the teachers who lost their teaching licenses are unlikely to ever get them again. But whether or not they can be re-tried and put into prison remains to be seen.
Do you believe Iowa should re-try or retroactively apply a prison sentence to the teachers who sexually abused students but did no prison time?
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