A man convicted of a sex offense in Oregon in 2004 became a volunteer at a Skagit County high school where he met a 15-year-old girl he is accused of raping. The obvious question: How was a convicted sex offender allowed to volunteer at the school in the first place?
When he moved to Skagit County sometime before March 2011, Michael Allen Coleman was supposed to register as a sex offender. He didn’t.
That allowed him to slip by a school-district screening process and start volunteering at Burlington-Edison High School, where he met a 15-year-old girl he is charged with raping.
Coleman, 36, was convicted in Oregon in 2004 of contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor, making him a Level 1 sex offender.
In fall 2010, Coleman was a guest speaker in an American Sign Language class at the high school, speaking to students about how deaf people can be successful in life, according to court documents. He went on to become a tutor in the class that year, the documents say.
A student in that class told police last month that Coleman started flirting with her and eventually took her out to his car and had sex with her, according to an affidavit in the rape case against Coleman. She also reported he had figured out where she lived and would wait nearby for her so he could pick her up, the affidavit says.
This happened about 60 times, despite her telling him she wanted it to stop, she told police.
The girl said Coleman told her she couldn’t tell anyone, that she was “too smart to tell anyone and said no one would believe her,” according to the affidavit. She told police she was concerned for her safety because Coleman “has told people that he will kill her and her sister,” whom he later dated, according to the affidavit.
She decided to go to police when she discovered Coleman was a registered sex offender, according to the affidavit. State records show he registered in March 2011.
He pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor failure-to-register charge in Skagit County District Court, but his sentencing was deferred for two years. That case, and the one accusing him of raping the younger girl, are pending.
Meanwhile, the girl’s older sister filed for a protection order this year against Coleman, who remains out of jail and is enrolled at Skagit Valley College.
Coleman pleaded not guilty earlier this month on the child-rape charges. His trial is scheduled for March 3.
Whether Coleman is convicted of the four counts of third-degree child rape, the question remains: How was a convicted sex offender allowed to volunteer at Burlington-Edison High School in the first place?
Burlington-Edison School District has prospective volunteers provide a valid driver’s license and fill out a one-page form, available on the school district’s website.
The form asks applicants to disclose, under penalty of perjury, whether they have ever been convicted of a crime “against children or other persons.”
The Skagit Valley Herald requested a copy of Coleman’s volunteer application under state public-records laws. The school district’s assistant superintendent said providing the document would take a month.
Besides the form, the district runs a background check through a system called Washington Access to Criminal History, or WATCH, run by the Washington State Patrol for a $10 fee.
WATCH shows criminal convictions only from Washington, meaning someone with convictions elsewhere could move here and show up clean. If a person fails to register as a sex offender, nothing would appear.
That may have been the case in 2010 when court records indicate Coleman first volunteered at Burlington-Edison. The Skagit Valley Herald ran Coleman’s name through WATCH and found that as of this month, he had had no convictions in Washington, but it indicated he registered as a sex offender in 2011.
Some school districts — including Burlington-Edison — say they check the Skagit County sex-offender registry on a regular basis to determine if a status has changed. Burlington-Edison Assistant Superintendent Jeff Drayer, who screens volunteers for the district, said someone there checks it monthly.
Drayer would not say whether anyone at the district ever saw Coleman on the list.
“The district is aware of the pending criminal charges against Mr. Coleman,” he said. “The district is investigating Coleman’s alleged association with Burlington-Edison High School in a manner that does not interfere with the Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office. Pending discussions with the Prosecutor’s Office, we have no further comment.”
Screening processes to volunteer in schools rely on applicants being truthful and obeying laws.
Disclosure forms depend on the honesty of the applicant. Sex offenders appear accurately on registries only if they comply with the courts’ requirements.
Districts are not required to run background checks on people interested in volunteering, said Kristen Jaudon, a communications specialist with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The state office also does not control whether districts check local sex-offender registries for volunteers’ names.
“It’s just not the way that the laws are set up,” Jaudon said. “We’re a local-control state, so there are a lot of decisions that happen at the local level.”
Some school districts run fingerprint checks on anyone interested in volunteering as a coach or who might have one-on-one access to any students. But running fingerprints through the State Patrol still returns only Washington results, said Deborah Collinsworth, identification and criminal-history section manager for the State Patrol.
The national sex-offender registry or an FBI check offers a wider picture, though an FBI check requires fingerprinting and costs at least four times more than the state WATCH check.