NORMAN — The Valentine's Day arrest of a former Norman teacher's aide on a lewd molestation charge has some parents fuming.
Parents say for more than a decade they have warned Norman school administrators and local police about violent and inappropriate conduct toward children by Christopher Ray Flores while he was a teacher's aide at Norman's Wilson Elementary School. They claim their complaints were ignored and covered up.
“You have another Sandusky event,” said Norman parent Kristofer Russow, referring to former Penn State University assistant football coach and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. “The warnings that we put out regarding this individual went completely unheeded.”
Flores was charged with lewd molestation Feb. 13 after a relative complained Flores had molested her 9-year-old son.
He was taken to the Cleveland County jail.
Flores, 30, of Norman, admitted touching the boy on his penis on three occasions, a Norman police detective reported.
Parents say since 2002, they have registered numerous complaints against Flores and Carolyn Shave, the former teacher in the special needs class where Flores worked.
They point to allegations contained in at least three federal lawsuits and one state lawsuit filed since 2007.
Among other things, those lawsuits allege that Shave forced a male elementary school special needs student to “take her clothes off and massage her when the other children were at recess.”
They also allege that Flores slammed a special needs student's head through a glass door and that Flores and Shave used improper strangle holds on children and punished them by placing them in a dark isolation room, tying them down and placing socks in their mouths, and pressing their heads and bodies against the floor for extended times.
Karen Long, attorney for the school district, said allegations made in lawsuits aren't necessarily true.
The district settled all three federal lawsuits out of court with confidentiality agreements that prohibit litigants from revealing the amounts of the settlements or discussing evidence in the cases.
Flores and Shave worked in a classroom for emotionally disturbed students. Allegations of child abuse should be considered in the context of the ongoing public debate over the proper amount of restraint or seclusion to use when dealing with children whose behavior might be a danger to themselves or others, Long said.
Shave was a teacher for Norman Public Schools from August 1983 to September 1987 and again from August 1992 until October 2006.
She submitted her resignation Sept. 26, 2006. That's the same day that a lawsuit says she was arrested, accused of “cultivation of marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms, possession of drug paraphernalia, including numerous pipes for ingesting illegal substances, and possession of cocaine.”
She received a five-year deferred sentence, according to a Cleveland County official.
There is no longer a court record of the case, an indication it may have been expunged. Efforts to reach Shave by telephone were unsuccessful.
Flores worked for Norman Public Schools from 2001 until the spring of 2010, when he resigned.
The parents contend they made numerous complaints, but school administrators seemed more interested in protecting the district's image than students. They also contend that police acted to protect Flores.
He is the son of a Norman police officer, according to the lawsuits filed against the district.
Shelly Hickman, spokeswoman for Norman Public Schools, denied that any cover-up occurred.
“If people are insinuating this district doesn't take allegations seriously and doesn't investigate allegations — that's wrong,” Hickman said.
“The safety of the children and students in our system is of the utmost importance to us, and we investigate every claim.”
Norman police spokeswoman Jennifer Newell was similarly incensed at the cover-up allegation.
“People can accuse us … but the Norman Police Department doesn't do business that way,” Newell said.
Newell initially told The Oklahoman that 2007 was the first time the police department received abuse complaints against Christopher Flores. At that time, parents of four children came in with an attorney and filed assault complaints, she said.
However, parents Paul and Tammy Maus challenged that statement. Tammy Maus said she sent an email to Norman Police Chief Keith Humphrey asserting that she, personally, had filed a complaint in late 2001 or early 2002 regarding “inappropriate behavior/molestation by Christopher Flores” involving a student who was not the Maus' child.
The complaint resulted in children undergoing forensic interviews, she said.
The police chief wrote back Friday, saying her 2002 complaint against Flores had been located and was overlooked initially because the suspect was identified as “Chris Flores” rather than “Christopher Flores.”
“I apologize for any confusion this may have caused,” Humphrey wrote.
“It should be noted, however, that the 2002 report was fully investigated and submitted to the Cleveland County District Attorney's Office for review. The district attorney's office declined to file any charges.”
The alleged improper action by Flores in 2002 concerned Flores taking a small boy to his house during the middle of the day, according to a Cleveland County lawsuit filed Feb. 19 by another parent.
The lawsuit claims Flores was reprimanded for his actions and that at some point he and Shave were moved to different schools, but not fired, after school officials were “made aware of harm to children.”
Flores continued to take children to his home during the middle of the school day, several years after having been reprimanded for doing so, the lawsuit alleges.
Hickman said she could not comment on whether Flores had been reprimanded.
Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said he was not in office in 2002, so he doesn't know what happened then. However, when the 2007 allegations were made, Mashburn said he requested an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation inquiry because of concerns by parents about possible bias within the local police department.
Mashburn said the OSBI report he received concerned allegations of physical abuse but not sexual abuse. He said he declined to file charges after reviewing the report.
“Basically it was inappropriate conduct, but nothing that was criminal in nature,” Mashburn said.
He said OSBI agents faced a difficult task in gathering reliable information because the primary witnesses were special needs children who had been talked to by parents, attorneys and others who could have influenced what they had to say.