Cracks in the System: How a Sex Offender Was Able to Go Undetected

 

 

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by: Analisa Novak

Cracks in the system Central Connecticut State University uses to monitor sex offenders allows registered sex offenders to attend school undetected. The flaws came to light this past summer after it was revealed that a student on the registry had attended for a year without state police or university knowledge.

CCSU is the only Connecticut State University that does not list the names of sex offenders on the campus website.

Federal law only requires the school to make the information accessible for those on campus.

CCSU does this by providing a link to the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry, the minimum to comply with the Campus Sex Crime Prevention Act.

“It’s a judgment call,” said Mark McLaughlin, Associate Vice President, Marketing & Communications.

That’s the same federal law that Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut state universities also have to follow.

The three schools, like CCSU, also provide that generic link but they go further and provide the names of the student sex offender and registry numbers on their website.

“We do this because the CT sex offender list is always changing, there are some offenders that still list SCSUs address on the official registry, that don’t go here. By making sure our campus list is accurate and up to date, we can better provide the information,” SCSU Campus Detective Cynthia Torres said.

The state also provides the CSUs with a list of sexual offenders on the database so they can cross-reference applicants and existing students as well.

This secondary check, if done, could also catch any offenders who are failing to disclose. This is done at the request of the university.

“They check our list (statewide registry list) against their list (campus list), to see if there is anyone going to school who is on the registry. If they notice that there is someone on there, who they have questions about, and contact us and ask if a particular student is listed being at the university on the registry and we say no, now we know there’s a violation and that’s a felony,” CT State Police Sergeant Matthew Garcia said.

The CT state registry list states that seven offenders use CCSU as their school address.

According to the most up-to-date list, which only the CCSU police have, only four offenders currently attend CCSU.

CCSU Police has listed a student who is a registered offender by the wrong name. His first and last name were mixed up on their hardcopy list and if students were to search for him on the state registry, using the name provided by the CCSU police, the name wouldn’t appear

“I think it’s important for the safety of our campus that the sex offender list is easily accessible by students and the more transparency on issues around sexual violence, the better,” said Sarah Dodd, CCSU Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention Specialist.

According to Gregory Sneed, CCSU Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety, there is an interview process that registered sex offenders go through before they become a student on campus.

“Sex offenders are required to register where they reside and where they are going to school. So by virtue of that, they notify the state, the state then notifies us. We then call them in and to just have a conversation with them.”

Prospective students choose to do the Common Application or the CCSU College Net application.

Both these applications ask prospective students to disclose any misdemeanors or felonies.

Applicants cannot go forward with the online application without selecting either yes or no.

If yes is selected, admissions forward the information to campus police, who will then speak to the applicant if needed.

Campus police are not responsible for selecting who gets admitted into CCSU even if they are sex offenders.

 

Sex Offenders are required by federal law to select yes and to not only inform the university, but also the state police.

“Failure to notify would then constitute a class D felony which is punishable up to five years (CGS § 54-256),” according to Sergeant Garcia.

The campus police cannot issue this particular felony violation, only the state police can.

Nathan George Cheatham, 28, failed to inform the university or the state police of his enrollment at CCSU.

By doing so he went undetected among students and faculty for an entire school year.

Cheatham was required to register to the police under CT 54-253, which deals with individuals who have been convicted out of state and are now living in Connecticut.

Cheatham was 18 when he was arrested in Michigan in 2005 for a sexual act with a 14-year-old girl.

 “It should be noted that it is believed that she was actually 13 years of age when this (act) had transpired,” according to police reports obtained by The Recorder through a Freedom of Information request with the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office.

Another incident with an additional 14-year-old girl was also investigated.

Cheatham later admitted to the two separate sexual encounters with the minors, according to the police transcripts.

Cheatham was charged with Gross Indecency Between Male And Female (Michigan statue 750.338b). He has been listed a sex offender since 2006.

Out- of- state sexual offenders are required to notify police whenever they want to attend any Connecticut State University or college.

“If they’re moving into Connecticut they have to let us know where they are going to school. If they committed a sexual assault in (i.e.) MA and now they are coming here and going to CCSU, they have to notify us without undo or delay, “said Sergeant Garcia .

Cheatham’s sex offender status was not known to the university or police until after the CCSU Society of Professional Journalists received an anonymous tip.

CCSU SPJ is a chapter of the national SPJ professional organization for students and working journalists and protects journalism by fighting for ethics, training and their First Amendment.

Cheatham was to be the president for the 2016-2017 academic year.

The group was preparing for a trip to the national SPJ convention in New Orleans when members got the tip.

When originally questioned by the E-Board of SPJ, Cheatham was defiant and refused to speak on the issue.

Later he met with the vice president of the group. In an interview last week, she said, Cheatham told her that he is on the registry for “fooling around” with a then- sixteen-year-old girlfriend.

Cheatham also told her that it was optional for him to inform on his status.

Upon further investigation by the group, it was discovered that both of these statements were false. Cheatham was then asked to resign as president.

“As a student leader he should be compliant with the school. If he’s not following the rules of the school he shouldn’t be in the office”, said CCSU SPJ Vice President Lisa Massicotte.

After Cheatham’s offender status was discovered, the CCSU campus police were notified and the CT state police temporarily listed him as a non-compliant sex offender on the registry. Cheatham was also a Student Government Association Senator. He was elected earlier this year and was set to be involved in the finance committee. He had participated on a retreat with SGA members during the time where it was not known of his offender status.

Student Activities was made aware of Cheatham’s failing to notify the police and the university of his sex offender status around the time the information came to light.

But even as they were aware of this information, administrators in student activities continued to allow Cheatham to be an SGA Senator.

Although what Cheatham did is considered a felony in Connecticut, CCSU did not see it necessary to remove him from SGA.

According to the CCSU student handbook, any full-time student “in good academic standing and not under disciplinary sanction may participate in clubs and other co-curricular activities.”

When Director of Student Activities Scott Hazan was asked for comment, he forwarded all interview questions to Mark McLaughlin.

When McLaughlin was asked why CCSU allowed Cheatham to continue to be on SGA even after officials knew he was a non-compliant sex offender, McLaughlin said that federal Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents him from responding directly to any question. He did say, “When we (CCSU) become aware of students or employees on the sexual offense registry our normal procedure is to conduct a thorough review.”

Cheatham was never suspended or expelled.  He was never put on any sort of a probation period by the university. Due to FERPA no information of a conduct review was given. It is not known if the school will ever seek any disciplinary actions.

At no time was any student member of student government informed by the university of Chatham’s non-compliance status.

When asked for comment, SGA president Jahmil Effend said, “We have to trust the university as we do with everything else.”

Cheatham never responded to multiple requests for an interview. As of now he is not registered in any classes for the fall semester.

Had Cheatham notified the CT state police of his status, the New Britain police would then have been notified.

“This whole thing comes down to the offender even notifying the state in the first place. You get on the registry because you’ve been convicted of a sex offense, you did time and you are being released into the community, you have to register. You do not have a choice. You are in the system. It is their responsibility to physically register with us and keep us informed,” Sgt. Garcia said.

The majority of sex offenders are compliant with the registry and the terms that come with their release, according to Sergeant Garcia.

“If they are going to be attending a university it is incumbent on them to tell us; if they don’t then now they are facing felonies,” Sergeant Garcia said.

If any students know of any offenders who are choosing to not disclose and meet the requirements of their sentence, police advise them to search the offender on the database, select submit a tip (located at the bottom of the offenders photo), and let the CT police know.

Informants remain anonymous

The Office of Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention provides services to assist and support individuals affiliated with Central Connecticut State University who have been impacted by sexual assault, relationship violence, and/or stalking. Students who need these services should contact Sarah Dodd at the office of Victim Advocacy and Violence, located in Carroll Hall, Room 248.

Editor’s Note: The Recorder strives to provide the university with the most accurate information possible. It is for this reason that no individual whether faculty or student found guilty of any offense against the state, university or any student, will be shielded or protected through anonymity. There were no aliases used in this story. The only names that will ever be protected in The Recorder are those of anonymous sources and victims of any crimes.