May. 18th, 2011

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Local news station CBS Atlanta ran a story about a DeKalb County teacher who resigned from his job after journalists investigated his checkered past. You see, CBS Atlanta has a segment they call “Tough Questions” in which they (appropriately enough) ask tough questions about what they consider to be possible problems in the metropolitan area. They have investigated problems with the water supply, code violations at local day cares, gang problems, and sex offenders.

It seems only fitting that they should level their aim at Lester Caldwell, who was arrested after being accused of inappropriate sexual contact with two students, including intercourse with a cheerleader. Atlanta Public Schools fired him following the accusations, but CBS Atlanta was tipped off that he has been rehired in 2008 to teach at an elementary school. After all, he does have a valid teaching license, so he should be able to work, right?

Apparently not.

After the accusations in 2004, Caldwell’s case went to trial. The prosecution relied on the testimony of the cheerleader who had reportedly admitted to school officials that she and Caldwell had sexual relations. She refused to testify, the charges were dropped, and Caldwell’s license was reinstated. In short, he was never convicted of the crime. Now, I see two reasons why the cheerleader wouldn’t testify: (1) She and Caldwell were indeed engaged in no-good and she was pressured not to testify for fear of physical or social repercussions, or (2) she was lying and Caldwell was innocent. Either way, the legal system did its job, and he was cleared.

CBS Atlanta found out that Caldwell had been rehired to teach in Atlanta, and they started asking questions. A spokesperson for the school district told journalists that they did know about Caldwell’s past, including the dropped charges, and decided that since he was never proven guilty, he was safe to hire. Sounds reasonable to me, but not to CBS Atlanta. They kept pressing the matter until the district launched an internal investigation to audit the hiring process, and Caldwell resigned.

Let’s consider for a moment the legal principle of Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat, commonly known as the presumption of innocence. You know it better as “innocent until proven guilty”. Basically, the burden of proof in any legal case rests with the prosecution. They have to gather and present enough compelling evidence to defend the accusations and convince a judge or jury to convict. It’s so important that it is written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, although not written directly into the United States Constitution, is established by precedent in the Supreme Court case Coffin v. United States (1895).

In Caldwell’s case, the prosecution failed to gather and present enough evidence to prove his guilt. Therefore, he is presumed innocent under the United States legal system. He lost his job once in a tough economy, was reinstated, and then was essentially forced from his job again because a local news organization wasn’t satisfied. Is it possible that Caldwell did do what he’s accused of? Sure, and if he did he should be prosecuted.  But until the proof comes to light, he’s not guilty. That’s part of who we are as Americans.

I consider what CBS Atlanta to be doing as a crusade, and potentially vigilante justice. They are punishing a man who is presumed innocent by the government by harassing him to the point that he has to surrender his job to alleviate the pressure. The fact that he resigned does not mean that he is guilty of any crime, despite what tribal knowledge would suggest. Quite honestly, being dragged through public legal proceedings and having my face in the media next to the title “child molester” would certainly be enough for me hide from a potential repeat performance. But CBS Atlanta isn’t happy at a dismissal of charges, and insists on dragging this man around by his heels.

Maybe someone should ask them some “tough questions” about their policies and reporting.


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