Bennett officials on leave during counselor probe

The principal and vice principal of James M. Bennett High School remain on administrative leave following the arrest of a guidance counselor and local coach charged with criminal offenses involving rape and soliciting child pornography.

Allen Edward Mitchell, 32, of Fruitland, who, last week was charged on 15 counts, was originally being held without bail but posted bond as of early this week.

He was placed on administrative leave as were Bennett Principal Amy Eskridge and Assistant Principal Kimandi Binns.

Mitchell was arrested Jan. 11 and his preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 7.

Mitchell, who, on his Facebook page, is self-described as a graduate of Bennett High and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, faces second-degree rape, fourth-degree sex offenses and soliciting child pornography charges, according to a news release from the Wicomico State’s Attorney’s Office on behalf of the Wicomico Child Advocacy Center.

He was arrested about three weeks after the commencement of an investigation prompted by a teenager who reported a guidance counselor asked questions the teen felt weren’t relevant and asked for pictures of the teen’s underwear, along with photos of the child in the nude.

A search-and-seizure warrant was served and photos of local students were found on Mitchell’s cell phone. Also discovered were pictures of another teen who, according to court documents, told officials nude photos were provided, and sexual contact began with one teen when she was 14.

Neither Superintendent of Schools Donna Hanlin, Wicomico County Board of Education President Don Fitzgerald nor Paul Butler, Director of Communications & Community Outreach for Wicomico County school, would confirm or comment on the suspensions, saying they are personnel matters.

Hanlin, on Jan 16, held her regular, monthly, open-door session for parents interested in meeting with her to discuss school-related matters, but Butler said the session wasn’t specifically planned for the Bennett situation.

After Mitchell’s arrest, Hanlin issued a news release stating Wicomico schools are “working in full cooperation with the State’s Attorney’s Office and with law enforcement on this matter.”

“Our first priority is always the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” Hanlin stated.

Members of the Wicomico County Child Advocacy Center is continuing the investigation and asking anyone with information to contact them.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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