One Montgomery County Public Schools official said that had the school system known more information earlier about teacher Walter Stafon Bowman, they might not have hired him.
Bowman was arrested Jan. 8 and charged with three counts of second-degree assault and one count of false imprisonment all stemming from incidents of unwanted physical contact with three female coworkers at Briggs Chaney Middle School in Silver Spring, police said.
Carole Goodman, associate superintendent for the school system’s Office of Human Resources and Development, was one of several school system officials — including Darryl Williams, associate superintendent of middle schools for the school system — who attended a Briggs Chaney parent-teacher association meeting Jan. 14 to talk and answer questions about the school system’s investigation process and Bowman’s record and recent arrest.
The school system officials addressed community concern that Bowman, 37, of the 4900 block of Veronica Court in Indian Head has faced other charges in the past.
Goodman said “there were no red flags” among the information the school system had when it hired Bowman, but that the school system might have acted differently if it had known more about him.
In Prince George’s County District Court, Bowman faced charges in 2010 related to second-degree assault and violating a protective order, according to online court records.
The records show he pleaded guilty to only one charge of violating a protective order and was fined $100.
In a school system with a large number of employees, Goodman said, sometimes things slip through the school system’s screening process that includes a background check, transcripts and letters of recommendation.
“It’s unusual for a person to have things in their background that didn’t show up,” she said. “I’m still kind of baffled about it.”
Kush Arora, Bowman’s attorney, said in an interview that those concerned about past charges against Bowman should understand that allegations against someone do not indicate guilt.
Professionals familiar with the allegations and the law made “the appropriate decision” not to prosecute Bowman, Arora said.
“There’s certainly nothing in his history that indicates he’s been prosecuted for any kind of act of violence,” he said.
Other school system officials assured the attendees during the meeting that nothing in Bowman’s past indicates he is dangerous.
Bob Hellmuth — director of school safety and security for the school system — said that while Bowman’s records show accusations against him, nothing indicates Bowman is “a threat” or “a man of violence,” he said.
Robert Grundy — director of the Performance Evaluation and Compliance Unit in the school system’s Human Resources and Development Office — said the school system considers charges that appear in a job candidate’s background check and considers factors such as the nature of the charges and whether they indicate a potential impact on students.
Officials at the meeting said the school system investigated Bowman earlier in the school year regarding the incidents with the female employees.
One person who attended the meeting asked why the school system allowed Bowman back into the school after its investigation but police had arrested him after they looked into the incidents.
Hellmuth said that the arrest doesn’t signify criminal intent on Bowman’s part.
He added there are some “nuances” between the statements the female employees gave to the school system and those they gave to police.
After one man raised concerns during the PTA meeting that Bowman returned to work with the female employees, Grundy said Bowman’s reported behavior involving inappropriate, non-sexual touching did not warrant moving him out of the school.
Briggs Chaney Principal Tamitha Campbell said they do not believe Bowman acted inappropriately toward students, but his arrest has been difficult for some students.
“For some kids that was their mentor,” Campbell said.
Cristina Benitez of Silver Spring, whose seventh-grade daughter was in one of Bowman’s classes, said she observed one of Bowman’s classes during a fall open house and thought he was “very insightful,” engaging and well-prepared.
“He came across a little bit strict,” she said.
The allegations against Bowman come as a shock, she said.
Lori Sciannella, a substitute teacher who has worked at the school since October, said after the meeting she still had unanswered questions, including whether the employees involved had had an opportunity to go to police when they raised their concerns about Bowman that led to the school’s investigation.
“I would hope that they would tighten up their vetting process,” she said of the school system.
One of the three female employees reported that Bowman assaulted her twice in late August, according to police, once putting his hands on her shoulders unexpectedly and, in another incident, placing her in a bear hug until she was able to break free.
Another female employee said she was standing in her classroom in September when Bowman approached her from behind, crouched on the floor and touched her ankle, according to police.
The third employee said Bowman grabbed her from behind around the waist in September, police said.
According to Bowman’s charging documents, police believed Bowman assaulted other people who are afraid to come forward.
His trial is scheduled for Feb. 25 at District Court in Silver Spring, according to online court records.
Bowman previously worked at Needwood Academy in Rockville for a few months in 2009 and A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring from August 2012 to June 2013, Montgomery County Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said.