A former Bedford County sheriff’s deputy will undergo counseling after he pleaded guilty Friday to misconduct with a high school student.
Daniel Aaron Clark, 34, was the school resource officer at Liberty High School from 2012 until October 2018, when state police allege he texted a then-14-year-old girl that he wanted to meet and to “snuggle all day” with her.
Clark pleaded guilty to one charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor that holds a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Clark agreed to have no contact with the victim and her family, and to receive professional counseling “to make sure this behavior does not happen again,” said Andrew Nester, the commonwealth’s attorney for Henry County, who was appointed special prosecutor in the case.
Nester said the victim and her family supported the plea agreement. He said the victim wasn’t in court Friday and had not submitted a victim impact statement.
Judge Robert Louis Harrison Jr. closed the plea hearing to the public because the case, heard in Bedford County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, involved a juvenile.
“This was a case that could have gone either way,” Nester said in explaining why prosecutors settled on the plea deal.
“There was no sexual contact,” he added. “There were hugs exchanged, things of that nature.”
State police charged Clark last month after a nine-month investigation into his contact with a student at the high school.
He had communicated with the student through texts, calls and visits at the school “in his office, the lunch room, hallways, gym, and parking lot,” according to a state police criminal complaint.
On Oct. 10, Clark texted the teenager to say he would be home alone that weekend, court records said.
“He stated they could snuggle all day and just chill,” the document says. “He states he always wants her with him, he loves her, and she needed to trust him. He asked what she wanted to do if she came over that weekend and stated if they get caught they will be done.”
Sheriff Mike Brown said his office received a complaint against Clark the following day about his behavior with a juvenile. Within hours, the department placed Clark on administrative leave and contacted state police, Brown said.
In October and November, a court granted a protective order to the student against Clark. Clark resigned Nov. 13.
Clark began duties at Liberty High School in 2012, when the community was wrestling with fallout from allegations of sexual misconduct by the previous school resource officer.
Clark’s predecessor, Ernest Grubbs, who had been in the position for seven years, was charged in 2011 with taking indecent liberties with a minor. While on bail, he fled with the 16-year-old student to Kentucky, where he was caught. Grubbs ended up serving 13 months in jail.
Brown said in a statement that school officials should direct “any hint of impropriety” from a school resource officer to the sheriff’s office. He said his office would continue to conduct a polygraph, a psychological exam and a physical on any department applicants.
Ryan Edwards, a school district spokesman, said he was confident the district had not received complaints about Clark. He said he believes complaints would have been directed to the sheriff’s office and not the school district.
Edwards said it would be inappropriate to comment on plans about the school resource officer program because it’s managed by the sheriff’s office.
Nester said the investigation into Clark was limited to the claims of the single teenager.
Nester said the judge sealed a 14-page statement of facts about the case. That seal will be reconsidered on Nov. 5, 2021, when the misdemeanor charge will be dismissed if Clark has adhered to the rules of the plea agreement.
Clark’s attorney, Drew Davis, declined to comment.