A former Knox County Schools teacher’s aide who sent naked photos to a Gibbs High School student has been given a new sentencing hearing as the result of a recent ruling by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Scot E. Vandergriff won the hearing to determine whether he should avoid conviction for sending “inappropriate texts and nude photos” to a male student at the school.
The Court said that the problem began in October of 2009 when Gibbs’ Principal Lynn Hill called the police after a parent complained that there were sexual texts on her son’s phone. The student’s teacher then alerted the principal who, in turn, confronted Vandergriff about the inappropriate text messages.
Vandergriff admitted to the principal that he had sent the photos. He then turned over his phone to authorities and gave consent to search the mobile device. The phone contained pictures of his anatomy and a subsequent investigation showed numerous text messages back and forth with the student, including nude photos.
Vandergriff decided to plead guilty as part of a plea deal to a charge of sexual exploitation of a minor and was sentenced to a two-year prison term. After pleading guilty he applied for judicial diversion, a program for first-time offenders that avoids jail and a criminal record if he were to abide the requirements of probation. The trial judge however, refused to allow Vandergriff to enter into the program. This decision was appealed and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that Vandergriff was entitled to another, more complete hearing.
The Court said that the judge, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz, did not adequately explain her decision to deny Vandergriff diversion. The Court said that the record does not demonstrate that the lower court considered all the factors in ruling against the application. All Leibowitz said was that she was going to “err on the side of caution” and deny the diversion. This statement is not a sufficient explanation for why Vandergriff does not qualify.
To read the full opinion, click here
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(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)