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Friday, September 18, 2015

The Neal Erickson Case: Teachers Rally Around a Convicted Sex Offender

     In the spring of 2013, Neal Erickson, an eighth grade science and computer education teacher at the Rose City Middle School in northern Michigan, pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conduct with a male student. Back in 2006, Erickson had ten sexual encounters with the eighth grader at the teacher's house. (The authorities learned of these sex offenses several years later when an anonymous tipster sent the police an old photograph of the student that in some fashion incriminated the teacher. The victim, at the time of the guilty plea, was attending college. Mr. Erickson had left teaching.)

     In anticipation of the former teacher's sentencing, six Rose City educators and two of their retired colleagues wrote letters to the judge on Neal Erickson's behalf asking for leniency. Amy Huber Eagan wrote: "I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all of the circumstances surrounding the case." (What circumstances could possibly mitigate this crime?)

     Rose City teacher Sally Campbell, in her letter to the judge, wrote: "Neal made a mistake. [Losing your wallet is a mistake. Stealing someone's wallet is not.] He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake [again the mistake] and ended it years before someone sent something to the authorities which began the legal process." (This pedophile might have ended the relationship because his victim had gotten too old or threatened to expose him.)

     Middle school teacher Harriett Coe wrote this on Erickson's behalf: Neal has plead [sic] guilty his one criminal offense but he's not a predator. [One could argue that any time a teacher has sex with a student, the teacher, by definition, is a predator.] He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends."

     On July 15, 2013, Neal Erickson's sentencing day, Judge Michael Baumgartner looked out over his courtroom and noticed that the defendant's teaching supporters were sitting with members of his family. Speaking directly to Erickson, Judge Baumgartner said, "I'm appalled and ashamed that the community would rally around you. What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher."

     Judge Baumgartner sentenced Neal Erickson to fifteen years to thirty years in prison. The former teacher's courtroom cheerleaders reacted with shock and disgust.

     Following the sentencing hearing, one of Erickson's supporters told a reporter with The Detroit News that Judge Baumgartner had socked it to the teacher because he was a man who molested a boy. Had the defendant in this case been a woman, she may have gotten off light. (This may be true, but it doesn't mitigate Erickson's crime.)

     Not long after Judge Baumgartner handed down the sentence, someone burned down the garage owned by the victim's parents, John and Lori Janczewski. An unknown person also spray-painted a threatening message on their house.

     Overall, citizens of this rural community agreed with Judge Baumgartner's hardline approach to pedophilia in the local school. Many have asked the school superintendent to fire Erickson's teacher friends. Several parents have said that if these sex offense cheerleaders aren't sacked, they are taking their children out of the school system.

     As could be expected, the embattled Erickson supporters responded to the public's outrage by making threats of their own. If the school superintendent tried to fire them, they would fight back by suing the cash-strapped school district. These pedophile supporting educators would not go down without a fight. Taxpayers and parents had a lot of nerve trying to interfere with public education.

     None of the teachers who supported and defended Neal Erickson lost their jobs over this case.  

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