DPS sues to ground Chandler tutor with shaky past - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

DPS sues to ground Chandler tutor with shaky past

July 21st, 2020 development
DPS sues to ground Chandler tutor  with shaky past

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

State law enforcement officials are attempting to stop a Chandler teacher who has been arrested 10 times on suspicion of inappropriately touching children from being able to work in local schools.

Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Heston Silbert filed a civil complaint in court on June 24 aimed at thwarting other state agencies from granting a fingerprint clearance card to 37-year-old Brett James Smith, who has been criminally convicted in other states for touching the backs of children.

Smith, who changed his name from Brett Zagorac, had been tutoring children in the Chandler area and was waiting to receive a fingerprint card in Arizona – which would grant him the ability to be hired in most school districts.

But then DPS stepped in and exposed his lengthy criminal history.

In his 27-page complaint, Silbert outlines the sordid details of Smith’s 10 prior arrests and his recent interactions around Chandler that have raised the suspicions of some local residents.

His suit alleges that it would be a mistake for Smith to be given a fingerprint card.

DPS had denied Smith’s applications for a card in the past but he appealed to the courts to obtain a “good cause exception” – a legal remedy offenders can be given if they’re found to be rehabilitated from their prior misbehavior.

The DPS director condemned an unidentified judge and the Arizona Board of Fingerprinting for thinking Smith had reformed himself and ultimately recommending he be given the “good cause exception” to obtain a fingerprint card.

The board was “arbitrary” and “capricious” in voting to give Smith a fingerprint clearance in January, Silbert’s suit states, and should hold another hearing to review evidence demonstrating Smith’s pattern of behavior.

“Smith has engaged in a prolonged series of inappropriate acts against children — even twice violating his probation conditions,” Silbert’s complaint states.      

Smith’s repeated contacts with Chandler Police and “pushy” tactics to tutor local school children should further disqualify him from obtaining a fingerprint card and prove his inability to change his behavior, Silbert’s complaint argues.

Lawyers representing Smith have accused DPS of creating a “false narrative” in order to smear Smith’s reputation.

In a statement, his attorneys claimed DPS’ portrayal of Smith’s arrest record is “false and misleading” and characterized his prior interactions with children as not being “sex crimes.” He’s never been convicted or accused of touching a child’s genitals, the lawyers stated.

Smith was first arrested in 2002 after a fourth-grader in Indiana accused the then-teacher of sliding his hand under the student’s shirt and rubbing their back. More students then came forward with similar allegations but the charges were later dropped due to uncooperative witnesses.

Over the next 13 years, Smith was arrested several more times for similar incidents involving rubbing the backs of girls and boys. He was convicted at least three times for misdemeanor offenses and spent some time in jail, court records show.

During one arrest in 2010, police in northern Indiana uncovered numerous school badges and teaching certificates that had been altered to display a fake name. Local authorities warned Smith to stop trying to tutor children in the area by advertising his services online.

In 2015, an Indiana court granted Smith’s request to have one of his arrest records expunged after prosecutors dropped the charges after a former student declined to testify against him out of fear of being in the defendant’s presence.

Smith eventually relocated to Arizona, changed his last name and started looking for new tutoring clients.

None of his prior arrests were known by Kim Kriesel when she hired Smith earlier this year to tutor her 11-year-old son at their Chandler home.

The mother was looking for someone who could help supplement her son’s education while the local schools were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kriesel saw Smith’s advertisements on Facebook a few times and decided to contact him.

Smith seemed to have an impressive resume, the mother recalled, and claimed to have earned several college degrees.

She hired Smith to come to their house a few times per week and the arrangement seemed to work out well in the beginning.

Smith and Kriesel’s son got along well, she said, adding they could often be heard laughing and joking from the family’s dining room table.

But then Kriesel saw a post on social media that suddenly changed her opinion of Smith.

Another local parent had published Smith’s mugshot and warned other parents not to hire him. Kriesel then did some internet sleuthing and confirmed Smith’s extensive criminal history.

“I was in total shock,” Kriesel recalled, “I was disgusted.”

She asked her son if anything strange had ever happened between him and Smith. There had been some touching on his back, the son told his mother.

Kriesel said she immediately called the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and claimed an officer told her the touching was not enough to count as a crime in Arizona.

A Sheriff’s Office representative said it currently has an open investigation involving Smith and did not elaborate on the details of the case.

Not feeling satisfied with the actions of law enforcement, Kriesel did some more digging and came across Director Silbert’s recent complaint against the Board of Fingerprinting.

In the document, she found out there were other people in Chandler who have known about Smith’s behavior since 2018.    

According to Silbert’s complaint, a woman contacted Chandler Police in 2018 after finding Smith’s tutoring advertisements online. They seemed suspicious to the mother who then unearthed Smith’s criminal history online.

The ads also mischaracterized Smith as a special needs teacher in the Phoenix Unified School District, which was not true.

The Chandler Chamber of Commerce reportedly interacted with Smith around this same time and staff felt there was something “not right” with him. The Chamber told Chandler Police that Smith was “pushy” about staff introducing him to local businesses and school administrators.

The Chandler Unified School District also told local authorities Smith had asked for permission to place flyers advertising his tutoring service in the backpacks of the district’s students.

“The school district reported that Smith was persistent about being allowed to put flyers in the backpacks and became upset that he was unable to do so,” Silbert’s complaint states.

Kriesel said she was disappointed to learn so many institutions around Chandler had encountered Smith and did nothing to warn parents about his behavior or criminal history.

“I don’t even know who to trust now,” she said. “I’m guessing I will rely more on moms in the area.”

Smith is not listed on Arizona’s registery of sex offenders and has never been arrested nor convicted of a sex crime in the state, court records show.

Kriesel said she’s hopeful the Board of Fingerprinting will reconsider its previous decision and not recommend a clearance card to Smith.

In a recent letter written to the board, Kriesel accused its members of failing to protect Chandler’s children by not carefully reviewing Smith’s history.

“It is my opinion that the AZ Board of Fingerprinting has been extremely neglectful in their role and share complete responsibility along with (Smith) for the assault on my son in what should have been the safety of his own home,” Kriesel wrote.

The Board has not yet filed a response to the DPS complaint in court.

Regardless of what happens between DPS and the Board, Krisel thinks there’s a good chance the Chandler community won’t be encountering Smith again. His tutoring website is down, his online advertisements removed, and he was quick to cancel his upcoming sessions with Kriesel’s son.

“I have a feeling this guy is long gone,” the mother said.

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