Teacher's sex charge raises questions about reference check process
Posted December 21, 2016
Durham, N.C. — A Wake County schools spokesman said Wednesday the school district did not know of a criminal investigation in Durham County from 2015 against one of the district's teachers until officials were contacted this week by investigators.
Troy Logan Pickens, 26, of 6620 Lake Hill Road in Raleigh, is charged with statutory rape, committing a sexual offense involving a student and taking indecent liberties with a child. He was being held in the Durham County jail under a $750,000 bond.
Pickens was hired in July 2015 by Durant Road Middle School in Wake County and was suspended last week when the school system learned of the allegations against him. Pickens worked until March 2015 as a chorus teacher at Neal Middle School in Durham, and he resigned two days after the district suspended him when a student claimed he said inappropriate things and possibly touched her, according to the Durham County Sheriff's Office.
"The allegations that resulted in Mr. Pickens’ suspension with pay from Durham Public Schools in March 2015 were investigated by the Durham County Office of the Sheriff at the time," a statement from Durham Public Schools said.
That investigation remains under review.
On Wednesday, Pickens made his first court appearance on the statutory rape and other sex charges, which stemmed from allegations by a different Durham student. Family members of that 14-year-old victim said the incident happened in February 2015, but they found out about the alleged sex assault only last week when the girl opened up about it in a paper she was writing for class.
The girl's mother, who did not want to be identified, described her daughter as an honor roll student, someone who loved school and never got in trouble.
Pickens' attorney argued that his client should get the benefit of the doubt, adding that he has no criminal record. Pickens' brother defended him.
"My brother has been an advocate for youth and adults in the education system for 10 years," he said. "Like his lawyer said, these are simply allegations."
The victim’s family worries there may be additional victims and hopes that they have the strength to come forward.
In a statement, Matt Dees with the Wake County Public School System said, "Criminal background checks are conducted on all new hires, although charges in this case were not filed until well after the teacher was hired."
Dees also said there is no "master list of suspended teachers" within the state that hiring districts can reference, and the school system will review its hiring practices.
A Durham Public Schools spokesman declined to comment on what information the district shared with Wake County during Pickens’ reference check.
"Typically, such communication is kept confidential due to state personnel laws protecting employee privacy," the district said in a statement.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Durham police Investigator J. Sandoval at 919-560-4440, extension 29461.