Police emails to Fairfax schools about counselor’s solicitation charge bounced back

Emails from the Chesterfield County, Virginia, police department aimed at informing Fairfax County Public Schools that a middle school counselor had been arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution from a minor were sent to faulty email addresses, police said Monday.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Chesterfield police told WTOP that the department sent three emails in November 2020 to two different email addresses for then-Superintendent Scott Braband that they said were provided to a police staff member from someone in the school system’s office.

Karen Leonard, the records administrator for the Chesterfield Police Department, said in an email Monday that the department conducted “further investigation” and learned the emails, in fact, were returned to the department as undeliverable.

Copies of the emails obtained through the FOIA request show the emails were sent to three incorrect email addresses.

Questions have been raised about how the counselor, Darren Thornton, was able to stay on the job for 20 months after his arrest in a sting operation in Chesterfield in November 2020.

WJLA first reported that Chesterfield police said they had notified the school system about the counselor’s arrest on Nov. 20, 2020 — the day after Thornton was arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution involving a minor.

Chesterfield police said it’s unknown who they spoke with to obtain the superintendent’s email address.

Moving forward, police said, they are planning to record who in the school system the department speaks to in order to obtain contact information.

In a follow-up post on Facebook on Tuesday, Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffrey Katz said Thornton was required to register as a sex offender with the Virginia State Police but that he lied about his employment, claiming that he was self-employed.

Thornton was also arrested June 9, 2022, following a separate sting operation and charged with soliciting a prostitute and “residing in a bawdy place.”

In that case, Katz said he was surprised to see Thornton still listed on Fairfax County Public Schools website as a counselor after his first arrest. The next day, Katz said, the Chesterfield’s department’s special victims unit supervisor called the school system to report the arrest. The department said here have also been follow-up communications with the school system’s safety and security director, Tom Vaccarello.

The school system said Thornton was placed on administrative leave June 17, and fired last week.

The announcement of the bounced-backed emails comes days after Superintendent Michelle Reid said she has launched an independent investigation into how Thornton remained an employee as a counselor at Glasgow Middle School despite the arrest and conviction.

The Virginia Department of Corrections is also conducting an investigation.

WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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