Sex abuse suspect had won trust of city parents, students as school employee

Baltimore parents outraged about charges in rape of Harford teen; city school officials acknowledge lack of oversight around credential check

(Harford County Sheriff's…)
December 05, 2012|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

For Erica Hamlett-Nicholson's 11-year-old son, Shawn Nowlin was his most trusted confidant when the Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School fifth-grader suffered from depression caused by his parents' separation.

For Duanelle Woodard's nephew, he was the guidance counselor who helped him secure placement in a high school of his choice. And for Antoine Jackson, Nowlin was the heavy-handed administrator who suspended his son for the first time in his academic career.

But Nowlin was a hall monitor, not a child and family therapist as he claimed, according to Harford County prosecutors and Baltimore City school officials. And last week the 27-year-old man was arrested on charges in Harford that he had sex and impregnated a 15-year-old girl he was counseling for behavioral problems; she was not a Hazelwood student.

Nowlin had won the trust of a number of students and parents at the school in Northeast Baltimore and led its PTA. The temporary employee also lied about being a school administrator, according to prosecutors.

"I'm just sick," said Hamlett-Nicholson, whose son Jawone had been seeing Nowlin as a therapist for the last year. "My son needed serious help, and I turned him over to this man because the school told me that I could. I was so proud I was able to send him to a doctor, and they let me turn my baby over to a hall monitor."

School officials acknowledged Wednesday — a week after Nowlin's arrest Nov. 26 on charges of second-degree rape, sex abuse of a minor and second-degree assault — that there is virtually no effort to ensure that credentials of temporary employees are checked. Officials said they are still trying to determine what duties Nowlin performed at the school after he was hired in September 2011.

"There were many dimensions to what he was doing, or saying he was doing at the school," said city schools spokesman Michael Sarbanes.

According to parents, prosecutors, community members, school officials and social media, Nowlin represented himself in a variety of capacities: as a child and family therapist, licensed social worker, guidance counselor, vice principal, dean of students, dean of student support, and director of community affairs.

Prosecutors said Nowlin had represented himself as a doctor to the Harford victim's family, and parents at Hazelwood said he was helping their students as a therapist.

Nowlin declined to comment when contacted this week, referring questions to his attorney.

"Due to the very serious nature of the pending charges and out of respect for the alleged victim in this matter, Mr. Nowlin maintains his innocence and will have no further comment at this time," said Nowlin's attorney, Terry Lavenstein, who declined to comment about Nowlin's credentials.

According to charging documents, Nowlin engaged in a sexual relationship with the Harford teenager when the girl's parents turned over legal guardianship to him, thinking he was a mental health therapist. Harford County prosecutor Lisa Marts said in an interview last week that the alleged victim is a student in Harford County — and that Nowlin met her and her parents outside of school functions.

Charging documents said Nowlin and the girl had sex at least five times and the victim was four months pregnant.

During a monitored phone call between Nowlin and the victim, he admitted the sexual relationship and offered to assist her in getting an abortion, according to the documents.

Nowlin told the girl that "it was never about age" and that he loves her, the documents state.

The Baltimore City school district is preparing to face Hazelwood parents in a meeting Thursday. Parents are demanding answers about how Nowlin was able to amass such responsibility at the school where he was known as "Doc."

City school officials said Nowlin was hired at $20 an hour to temporarily oversee "Partnership Coordination," a community outreach position, in September 2011 and became a contractor in August, paid $24,900 a year. When asked what functions he performed as a contractor, the school system said it was still investigating.

Prosecutors said they concluded that he was a hall monitor.

The school's new managing assistant principal, David Wunder, who did not hire Nowlin, declined to comment Wednesday. In a letter sent home to parents Nov. 29, he wrote that "Mr. Nowlin no longer provides services of any kind at our school."

Nowlin's last day was the day after his arrest, according to Sarbanes, though the school system had said in a statement last week that he stopped working in September.

Kim Lewis, who oversees the system's human capital office, said her office conducts background checks and fingerprinting, but "hiring managers" are responsible for extensive credential checks of temporary employees.

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