ARLINGTON — Members of the Highland Christian School board knew Mark Brown had been previously accused of sexual misconduct when they hired him to lead their school three years ago, the school’s attorney said Thursday.
Brown is charged with third-degree child rape, involving a Highland student. He is accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl inside the school in Arlington. Detectives say Brown encouraged the girl to run away and set up a hide-a-bed for her at the school.
Investigators have found nearly 700 text messages between the two, court documents said. The girl and her family now have a no-contact order against Brown.
Brown came to Highland about a year after he lost his job in 2004 as the Concrete High School wrestling coach. He was investigated for reports of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. No charges were ever filed.
The Highland school board checked Brown’s references and past employers before hiring him, said Brett Nagle, a Lynnwood attorney who is acting as the board’s spokesman. The board knew Brown had faced allegations of misconduct in Concrete but because no charges were brought, the board decided to hire him, Nagle said. Brown seemed qualified and had friends on the board, the attorney said.
“They did an investigation,” he said. “They interviewed him and they talked to folks at his old school. They were under the impression that he had the experience.”
Nagle said he hasn’t seen a copy of Brown’s resume and isn’t sure what type of background check the board conducted.
Brown appeared Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court for a brief hearing. Deputy prosecutor Hal Hupp asked the judge to continue the trial until Nov. 14. Brown has pleaded not guilty.
There is a large amount of evidence and detectives are continuing their investigation, Hupp told the judge.
Brown quickly left the courtroom Thursday. His father warned reporters to leave his son alone.
“You just want to destroy him,” Joe Brown said.
State social workers contacted Skagit County sheriff’s deputies in March 2004 after receiving a complaint Brown was having inappropriate contact with a female student at Concrete High School.
Sheriff’s detectives interviewed the Concrete student, who reportedly said she and Brown were just friends and called the allegations “ridiculous,” police reports show.
The girl said she and Brown sent each other text messages and Brown occasionally gave her a ride home, according to police reports. The teen told police she and another student watched a movie in Brown’s motel room while out of town for the state wrestling championship, the police report said. She also went out to dinner with Brown and another student at the Red Robin restaurant in Burlington, the girl allegedly told police.
Concrete school officials told investigators they had warned Brown at least twice not to drive female students in his private vehicle. They also told detectives Brown was reprimanded after suggesting the girl’s volleyball team wear spandex outfits instead of more traditional athletic uniforms, according the sheriff’s report.
A Concrete administrator called Brown at home to inform him he was suspended from his coaching job because of the investigation. Brown allegedly asked, “What am I being sued for? Raping someone?” the sheriff’s report said.
There was no evidence of a crime, the detective wrote, and she closed the case a short time later.
The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has no record that Brown is a certificated teacher. OSPI officials records show that Brown passed a criminal background check when he was hired as a coach in Concrete, which is a public school.
Private schools have the authority to request a background check but aren’t required to do them. Brown’s troubles in Concrete wouldn’t have shown up because he was never charged with a crime, police said.
After he lost his job in Concrete, Brown expressed an interest in working with the Darrington High School wrestling team. As part of the district’s background check, Superintendent Larry Johnson called the Concrete School District. He said a Concrete administrator told him about the sexual misconduct allegations against Brown.
“When you talk to someone and they said they investigated it, it’s really tough,” Johnson said. “When you turn to the police and they didn’t find anything, what do you do with it? It’s just a gut basis.”
The Darrington team already had enough coaches, including Brown’s brother, and Johnson said he opted not to hire the man.
Brown was hired by Highland about three years ago, when the school was called Master’s Touch Christian School, records show.
He was fired by the Highland school board July 25, just days after he was charged with rape.
The school board has hired The Goehner Group, a California-based Christian consulting company, to investigate the details surrounding Brown’s hiring and to help the school find a new administrator.
At the advice of The Goehner Group, this week the board hired retired elementary school principal Darlene Hartley as the interim principal at Highland. Hartley retired in 1998, after spending seven years as a principal in Highline Public Schools in Burien. She lives on Camano Island and serves on the Stanwood-Camano school board.
Hartley, 64, was recruited for the position, which will be her first in a private school.
“If things are going swimmingly, then you don’t have the opportunity to serve as much as you do in situations like this,” she said. “I always wonder, ‘Am I the person that God will use in this situation?’ But I believe that my training and my beliefs and my education and my experience lend themselves to this position. That’s my prayer.” About 240 students in kindergarten through 12th grade attend Highland Christian School.
Brown’s arrest devastated parents who send their kids to Highland for a faith-based education. Hundreds of families last week packed into the school’s auditorium for a closed-door meeting about Brown. Another meeting is planned for Monday evening.
Like many parents, when Edwin Anglesey first heard the allegations about Brown he considered pulling his son, an incoming senior, out of the school.
In the months prior to Brown’s arrest, Anglesey noticed administrative missteps from the principal and wasn’t surprised to see him lose his job.
“I’m not surprised that he fell,” Anglesey said. “I am stunned and shocked at what it is that he fell from.”
Raylene Nance also had concerns about Brown. When she approached him about behavior problems in her daughter’s third-grade class, he dismissed her, saying boys are rambunctious, she said.
In the days after the allegations about the former principal became public, as she struggled to explain to her daughter that “Mr. Brown” was accused of a “naughty thing,” Nance considered pulling her child from the school. Faith — in Highland’s mission and the board — persuaded her to stay.
“I know there are parents that are still angry,” she said. “I was angry myself for a day or two — and that’s that. You can’t be consumed by anger.”
When Anglesey enrolled his son in Highland Christian last year, he assumed the faculty and staff had undergone background checks. He wants those who hired Brown to be held accountable. He said policies need to change to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
“I don’t see how, by any stretch of the imagination, they could consider Mark Brown qualified for the job,” Anglesey said. “They hired the guy. He’s the center of allegations that he allegedly perpetrated, not Highland Christian School, but the fact is the board, through laxity, bears responsibility.”
Anglesey said he is praying for the girl entangled in this case. He is praying for Brown and his family. And he is praying for Highland Christian School.
“Highland Christian School is tremendously important,” he said. “It’s a beacon to me — and the light still shines. I want the school to survive and to thrive.”
Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.