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December 20, 2002

Deaf School Interpretor Convicted

From: KARK, AR - 20 Dec 2002

Story by Alice Stewart

A former employee at the Arkansas School for the Deaf will spend Christmas at home, then head to jail. A Pulaski county jury convicted Byron Caldwell of criminal attempt to violate a minor. Prosecutors really hold two people accountable here. Caldwell, for his sexual advances, and the School Superintendent, Carl Barger, for not reporting the accusations right away.

Now, both have been sent the message that their actions are unacceptable. In November of 2001, a 16-year-old student at the Arkansas school for the Deaf says his translator, Byron Caldwell, made sexual advances at him, while at a seminar at a North Little Rock Hotel.

Terry Raney, the Pulaski County Dep. Prosecutor, tells News 4 Arkansas, "the defendant said, ‘don't tell, nobody will believe you anyway’, he was wrong."

The student told a Counselor, but the school's Superintendent, Carl Barger, told her not to call a child maltreatment hotline. For that, Barger was convicted of solicitation and fined $100. Counselor Melissa Higgenbotham made the call. "I feel like I did the right thing. I was told not to make the hotline call by Mr. Barger, and that was the wrong thing for him to tell me."

In the student's trial, interpreters signed details of the sexual advances. Prosecutors also introduced a boy from Louisiana, who said Caldwell molested him for years. The victim's mother says she's proud of her son for speaking up. "For having the strength and courage, when people said, ‘don't tell nobody, that they wouldn’t believe you’, and they told the jury."

Jurors convicted Caldwell of criminal attempt to violate a minor. He was sentenced to six months in jail. Judge Chris Piazza ruled Caldwell can begin serving his time after the holidays. Jack Lassiter, Caldwell's Attorney, explains, "it's been a hard two days with testimony…glad to have this behind him and get on with his life."

The victim's family says the conviction has made a big difference in his attitude. "When he smiles, his whole face smiles. We haven't seen that in a long time and we're now seeing that again.”

The victim's family has a federal lawsuit pending. That case is based on the school not reporting the incident and the emotional harm to the victim. In addition to spending six months in jail, Caldwell is also required to register as a sex offender.

Watch KARK News 4 for more on this story!

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