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Teacher resigns after HIV arrest

By Chris Conley


April 30, 2003

A middle school teacher who continued to teach science for eight months after his indictment for exposing a teenager to HIV has resigned, Memphis school officials said Tuesday.

Juan Thomas, 33, had been on unpaid leave from Lanier Middle School since last week, when police came to the Whitehaven campus and arrested him on a warrant issued in August. He was indicted on one felony count of criminal exposure to HIV.

Law enforcement officials were unable Tuesday to say why the suspect was not arrested immediately. They said an informal system to flag priority warrants didn't work in this case.

Thomas admitted to having a consensual relationship with the 17-year-old boy, who later was diagnosed with the virus, according to an arrest report. Thomas also allegedly said he knew he had the virus.

Memphis Police Insp. Matt McCann said Tuesday the department acted immediately to arrest Thomas after learning, through a tip originally given to the state Department of Human Services, where the teacher could be found.

The police would not necessarily have been notified when Thomas was indicted, McCann said.

"In a perfect world, as soon as they are indicted, they would be picked up," McCann said.

The Shelby County Sheriff's Office fugitive squad, which serves arrest warrants, gets 100 new warrants each day and has a backlog of 50,000 warrants, said Chief Deputy William Oldham.

Typically, the fugitive squad relies on prosecutors and police to alert them to serious cases that require immediate action. For example, when a suspected child molester may have contact with children.

Oldham acknowledged such crucial information often is not passed on to the fugitive squad.

"We have to revamp" the system of evaluating the seriousness of individual cases, Oldham said.

He said he is looking into ways of evaluating the warrants when they first come in and of establishing a procedure where other agencies flag cases that require an immediate arrest.

In the Thomas case, "we didn't identify it as a priority warrant," he said. "If it is something hot, we would like them to let us know about it."

School officials said a background check on Thomas came up clean, and that he has taught science at three different schools since October 2000.

Police did not identify the 17-year-old whose allegations led to the indictment. It is unknown whether he was a student at a school where Thomas taught.

Attempts to reach Thomas through phone calls and a visit to his home were unsuccessful.

- Chris Conley: 529-2595

Copyright 2003, GoMemphis. All Rights Reserved.

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