Police arrested former Chattanooga Valley Elementary School teacher Charles Mark McCormack on a federal child pornography charge Wednesday. This comes after multiple local investigations against him, none of which resulted in an attempt at prosecution.
McCormack, 53, secretly videotaped a 5- or 6-year-old girl in his bathroom between August 1997 and October 1998, according to an affidavit filed this week by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent James Rivers.
McCormack's girlfriend at the time discovered the child porn when they met in a Memphis hotel room on Oct. 15, 1998, according to the affidavit. She said a video tape slipped out of his briefcase, and McCormack panicked. Based on his strange reaction, she took the tape and watched it.
According to the affidavit, the video shows McCormack adjusting a camera in his bathroom. Then, he leaves the screen and talks to a girl. She then walks into the bathroom and urinates, captured by the video. Rivers watched the video and said the woman's description is accurate.
McCormack was living in Muscle Shoals, Ala., at the time, and the woman said she called the local police to tell them about the child pornography. She lived in Arkansas at the time, and she said the police told her she needed to come into the station in person to write a complaint against McCormack. Instead, according to the affidavit, she chose to file the video away.
Meanwhile, McCormack became an elementary school teacher in Walker County. And complaints of child abuse streamed in, though none of them ever reached a grand jury.
In 2010, according to a Walker County Sheriff's Office file, a girl told her mother that McCormack took a picture under her skirt one day. She said she knew what he was doing because the flash on his cell phone lit up.
Her mother, however, later told the sheriff's office she didn't believe her daughter's claim. She met with McCormack and Jason Pelham, Chattanooga Valley Elementary School's principal at the time. McCormack said he only had his cellphone out at the time because his son was graduating and his wife was sending him messages.
The mother said she searched McCormack's phone and did not find any pictures of her daughter. She said she believed the teacher and didn't want him to lose his job.
Her daughter, however, held firm.
"Mr. McCormick (sic) told my mom a big fat lie," she said to an investigator, according to the report.
Assistant District Attorney Beth Evans said there was not enough evidence to pursue criminal charges, according to the report.
About five years later, another female student accused McCormack of inappropriate conduct. In January 2015, a girl came home from school and said McCormack had asked her to stand in front of him at his desk. She said he then put his hands down her pants.
During an interview at the Children's Advocacy Center the next day, the girl wrote "techr" when asked who had given her a "bad touch." The interviewer then asked her to circle where she had been molested. The girl drew lines around her chest and vagina.
This had been going on for about two months, she said, according to the report.
"She also stated that this happens every day and she tells him to stop but he doesn't," a Walker County Sheriff's Office investigator wrote.
These allegations were also not pursued further. A paraprofessional who worked in the room with McCormack said she had never seen him do anything inappropriate toward the students. The school's guidance counselor said the girl had behavioral issues and had become "clingy" toward McCormack. The guidance counselor also did not believe McCormack would molest the girl.
Asked to take a polygraph, McCormack declined.
"There is an area behind McCormick's desk, where if she was standing and he was in front of her in his chair, she would not be visible to anyone else in the room. There is a possibility that this act could have taken place without drawing attention."
The sheriff's office did not pursue the charges further, lacking physical evidence.
In May 2016, the sheriff's office assisted the federal Internet Crime Against Children Task Force in a third investigation against McCormack. Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines said in a news release at the time that he had removed McCormack from the classroom as a result of that investigation.
It's not clear if that third case is tied to the federal child pornography charge that McCormack now faces. Though his girlfriend received the video in question in 1998, law enforcement did not receive it until September 2016, according to Rivers' affidavit filed this week.
Officers tracked down the girl in the video, now an adult. Shown a still image of the video, the woman confirmed it was her.