John Dockum, 34, of North Bennington, who taught fifth grade at Monument Elementary School, pleaded not guilty to five felony counts of possession of child pornography. He was released on conditions he not have direct contact with his wife, Megan Dockum, or any contact with children under 16 years old. He is allowed contact with his own children through Family Time, a program that facilitates supervised visits between defendants and their children. He is also barred from using a computer with access to the Internet.
Dockum was put on administrative leave from the school with pay on Oct. 5.
Bennington police have said there is no evidence to suggest the alleged images involved local children, nor have there been allegations of inappropriate contact between Dockum and students.
According to an affidavit by Bennington Police Detective Anthony Silvestro, who is assigned to the Bennington County Special Victims Unit, on Sept. 21 he spoke to Megan Dockum at the Bennington Police Station about video files she had found on her home computer that appeared to be of underage girls. She told police she had found similar videos in the past, but the girls on them did not appear as young as the newer ones.
Megan Dockum had brought the computer tower to the station with her, but Silvestro said to return it to the home and he would review the videos there. Silvestro said there were about 40 video files with dates indicating they had been downloaded between 2010 and September 2011. He said they showed young women engaging in sex acts, and that some appeared to be under 16 years old.
Silvestro wrote that he contacted Officer Lawrence Cole, who used to be assigned as a detective to the Special Victims Unit, for his opinion on the videos. According to the affidavit, Cole said the women on the videos did not meet the criteria for being prepubescent, but did appear younger than 16.
Silvestro said Megan Dockum began to cry at this point, saying her husband is a teacher and they have three small children together.
According to Silvestro, on Sept. 23 he contacted Detective Erick Johnson, of the Brattleboro Police Department, who is assigned as an investigator to the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit, who suggested police seize the tower if Megan Dockum gives consent. On Sept. 26 Silvestro said he discussed the matter with the Bennington County State's Attorney's Office who agreed with Johnson.
Silvestro said he then called Megan Dockum, who said she had spoken to her husband about having gone to police. She said he had not gotten upset over the matter. Silvestro said she turned over the computer and on Sept. 30 it was taken to Brattleboro for analysis.
On Oct. 3, police were granted a search warrant for Dockum's classroom, home, and vehicle. It was executed on Oct. 5. Silvestro wrote the computer tower Dockum's wife gave police lacked a hard drive, and so he asked Dockum where it was. According to the affidavit, Dockum said he threw it in the trash outside the J.C. Penney at Crossgates Mall in Albany, N.Y. He said he had promised his wife he would no longer use the computer and would get rid of the Internet. He said he threw the hard drive away because deleting files does not remove them from the computer.
Dockum told police he believed the videos showed women at least 17-years-old, and the Website stated they were all 18. He told police which Website it was and that he heard about it through Facebook or Twitter. Dockum told police he suffers a pornography addiction, and said he would miss events and put his children to bed early in order to use the computer. He said the problem has been going on for years.
According to Silvestro, after Dockum's school computer was seized, it was not examined until Nov. 15 in Burlington, by Detective Trooper Renee Hall, of the Vermont State Police, who is assigned to ICAC. Hall told Silvestro the evidence would be examined ahead of other cases because of Dockum's position with the school.
Silvestro said on Dec. 12 he spoke to Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Superintendent Catherine McClure, who said Dockum was hired July 6, 2009. She said on Dec. 7, 2010, laptops were providedd to students in Dockum's class as well as Dockum himself. She said teachers are allowed to take the machines home, but cannot access certain Websites from the school's servers because of blocking software.
Silvestro said he then spoke to Marci Noyes, a systems administrator with the SVSU, who tested one of the sites Dockum allegedly visited, and found it was blocked from school servers. Accessing the Internet through those servers requires a user name and password, but when off school grounds, it does not, Noyes told police.
According to the affidavit, on Jan. 23, Silvestro met with Hall, who said her analysis of Dockum's lap top turned up 17 images of possible child pornography. The affidavit describes five images of girls who appear under 12 years old engaged in sexual acts with adults or other children, or posed in provocative positions.
Police said Dockum was interviewed again on Jan. 24, this time regarding Internet activity on the lap top. Dockum said he did not download or view any photos of children. He said he did not recall viewing any pornographic material, although it was possible some came up as a thumbnail image.
Bennington attorney David F. Silver, who represents Dockum, said in an interview outside the courtroom that the files appeared to be deleted ones found in the computer's temporary Internet cache, and there is no evidence Dockum downloaded them, viewed them, or knew they were there.
"There's probably not one person, prosecutor or police officer who knows the whole story about this case," said Silver. "And I can also say there's not one person with a computer that doesn't have images in their temporary Internet cache that they have no idea what those images are; they've never viewed them, they never possessed them, other than to maybe delete them."
Silver said in 2006 the state brought charges against a teacher at the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center for allegedly viewing child pornography on school computers, but the case was dropped because there was no evidence the teacher viewed the images or knowingly downloaded them.
That teacher did, however, lose his teaching license. "What I'm asking people to do here is to not rush to judgment, to take to heart our sacred democratic principle that you are presumed innocent unless and until there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt," said Silver. "Keep an open mind until the facts come out in this case."
"I think this case highlights issues were are having with funding for forensic computer analysis," said State's Attorney Erica Marthage. "The problem is there is one lab in the whole state. It generally takes a year, at best, to get a computer analyzed. In this case the ICAC forensic analyst essentially said because of Mr. Dockum's, job we are going to bump this to the front of the list. We got our results in about three months, which was significantly fast-tracked."
She said aside from the analysis being done quicker, Dockum's case is not being handled any differently because he is a teacher. She said her investigation is independent from the one being done by the Department of Education.