SO MUCH FOR BACKGROUND CHECKS
Gun-Dealing Ninth-Grade Teacher Traded Sex for Grades
An Alabama teacher who allegedly preyed on female students was also a convicted felon who took a leave of absence from the school to serve his prison sentence.
An Alabama history teacher who allegedly offered A’s in exchange for sex also moonlighted as a black-market gun dealer, records show.
Phillip Smith III, of Birmingham, was indicted on federal gun charges while teaching social studies in 2004. Yet the school district never knew, even as the high school instructor took a seven-month leave to serve his prison sentence.
Now the 43-year-old is facing a lawsuit from the family of a female student, who claims Smith cornered her in class and solicited sex.
The complaint also alleges Smith operated a “sex for grades” scheme that targeted children who struggled in school. Birmingham City Schools and the city’s board of education, accused of negligence, are also defendants in the lawsuit.
“He kind of liked to dance around the classroom,” the unidentified student told AL.com, which first revealed the creepy teach’s tactics.
“My friends told me to have my boyfriend walk me to his class,” the girl added.
Smith allegedly put the moves on the student in December 2013, when he was administering a history exam at Huffman High School.
The convict teacher—who was also a women’s volleyball coach at the school—was later fired and criminally charged as a result of the girl coming forward, her attorney, Julian Hendrix, told The Daily Beast.
While Hendrix’s client wasn’t sexually assaulted by Smith, authorities allegedly found a 14-year-old girl who was, according to a 2014 AL.com report.
Smith and his attorney did not return messages left by The Daily Beast on Wednesday. Messages to the Birmingham school district’s in-house attorney and the Birmingham Board of Education also weren’t returned.
Smith was initially charged with first- and second-degree sodomy and misdemeanor school employee sexual contact, court records show. But under a plea deal, Smith was convicted only of endangering the welfare of a child.
As part of the agreement, Smith surrendered his teaching license and was able to avoid registering as a sex offender. His 12-month jail sentence was suspended and he was put on two years’ unsupervised probation, AL.com reported.
“He’s had access to these children, and many he targets are students who are struggling academically or have behavioral issues,” Hendrix told The Daily Beast. “He lures them in and says, ‘I can help you out, if you do this for me.’”
In the case of Hendrix’s client, Smith allegedly directed the girl to switch seats “just within arms’ reach” of his desk.
The instructor gave no excuse for her relocation, “other than that he wanted her close to him,” court papers allege. She was the only student he relocated that day, her family claims.
Smith then allegedly handed the girl a note reading, “Since you think you got it like that, come back on seventh period, pull down your pants and let me kiss your ass. I will do and ‘A or B’ or whatever you want.”
The teacher then allegedly ripped up the red-inked missive and tossed it into a trash can, AL.com reported.
After the period was over, the girl began to exit the classroom with other students. But, according to court papers, Smith stopped her and “sought to entice and snare” her by saying, “You scared?”
The horrified student reported the incident to her mother, and they both alerted Huffman High School and the Birmingham Police Department, the complaint alleges.
She would later learn that other classmates had fallen prey to Smith’s alleged “sex for grades” bit, court papers state. According to the girl’s lawsuit, Smith “took calculated steps” during the school year to get chummy with students and their parents.
Hendrix said his client was forced to attend Smith’s class for two weeks after the incident, until Smith was finally suspended with pay as school administrators started investigating the alleged abuse of other pupils.
“To face the person who has done this to you, then have to take their tests and obey their authority… I don’t get it,” Hendrix told The Daily Beast. “I’ve seen stories where a child went to school and got expelled for something frivolous.
“You have a zero tolerance policy for these young children in school but not a zero tolerance when it come to teachers,” the attorney added.
The girl struggles in classes taught by men following the encounter with Smith, according to an interview with AL.com. “Now if they give me work, I just do it and I just don’t participate with the class,” she told a reporter.
Her family is angry that Smith, a convicted felon, was permitted to continue teaching despite state education officials allegedly knowing of his criminal past.
Smith’s rap sheet includes a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction in 2002, for which he completed a program, and a federal guns case in 2004, when he was teaching social studies at Wenonah High School.
In a plea agreement, Smith copped to making multiple purchases from the Birmingham Pistol Parlor and to buying 108 firearms since 2000, then selling them at a profit even though he wasn’t a licensed dealer.
Smith told an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that he would sell semi-automatic pistols—guns that were showing up in Birmingham and as far away as Detroit, Michigan, court papers state.
A spokeswoman for Birmingham City Schools told AL.com the district never knew of Smith’s gun conviction, despite a nearly year-long leave of absense in 2006 and 2007 to serve his federal prison sentence.
When he returned from the big house, Smith transferred from Wenonah High to Huffman High, AL.com reported.
Still, state officials allegedly knew about Smith’s gun conviction. According to AL.com, an Alabama State Department of Education spokeswoman said an independent source notified the agency of Smith’s prison stint as early as 2008.
Because his charges “appeared to be based on his having possession of a firearm while having a conviction for domestic violence… Smith was once again cleared in 2008 based on that information,” the spokeswoman told AL.com in an e-mail.
Hendrix said he believes in “reformation” when it comes to a teacher’s criminal record, as long as it doesn’t involve minor children.
“There should have been a process where you can’t teach for five years and reapply—a probation period where [teachers] do everything they’re asked to do,” Hendrix said. “There should have been some measures in place.”
It’s even more appalling that administrators allowed Smith to teach after learning of the initial sexual harassment allegations, the attorney said.
“Even after a child comes to you, you don’t take him out of service,” Hendrix told The Daily Beast. “That’s what this lawsuit is about… to find out why.”