Elk Grove Unified School District officials never told parents that a classroom volunteer at one of its elementary schools was indicted in December on a child pornography charge because, officials said, the alleged crime happened off campus and did not involve students at the school.
Christopher C. Kinney had been a volunteer at Prairie Elementary School since 2013 when he was arrested Dec. 14, 2016, in Elk Grove on suspicion of conspiracy to produce child pornography. Kinney remains in custody and is scheduled to return to a federal courtroom in June, said U.S. attorney’s officials. Kinney is no longer a volunteer at the school.
In a lengthy statement responding to queries from The Bee, district spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton said officials received word of Kinney’s arrest from a “credible witness” and took “swift action” the same day to bar Kinney from Prairie and tell those who worked with him that he no longer had access to the school.
Pinkerton said parents were never notified of Kinney’s arrest or why he was no longer at Prairie Elementary School because the arrest did not happen at the school and no allegations regarding Kinney were ever reported by students or staff to school officials.
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Parents contacted by The Bee last week outside Prairie Elementary School on Valley Hi Drive in Sacramento reacted to the news of Kinney’s December arrest with frustration. One parent said news of Kinney’s arrest had circulated among parents but that they had not heard official word from the school or district. The Bee in January reported on Kinney’s indictment.
“I’m upset. I’ve got a child here,” said Steve Gonzales, a Prairie parent and volunteer at the school who said he wasn’t aware of Kinney’s arrest.
Ana Amezcua said parents should have been notified even though Kinney’s arrest was off campus, she said.
“He was working with students. It doesn’t make any difference,” Amezcua said.
Gonzales said he was surprised neither he nor other parents had been told of Kinney’s arrest, calling the lack of notice “out of character” for the school and Elk Grove Unified.
Gonzales said he was concerned that school volunteers will be looked at with suspicion after Kinney’s arrest.
Amezcua said word had spread among parents about an arrest but said no one from the school or district had made an official announcement.
“If I didn’t know from other parents, I wouldn’t even know,” Amezcua said.
Prairie Elementary had already been shaken by the arrest last September of an aide suspected of molesting students at the campus.
Eric Ernest Echols, 29, was arrested on suspicion of child molestation and placed on paid administrative leave in July 2016 after a two-month investigation by Sacramento County sheriff’s detectives into allegations he had inappropriate contact with six children, ages 7 and 8, between July 2015 and June 2016.
District officials issued a letter the same day of Echols’ Sept. 16 arrest notifying parents that the aide was placed on leave and removed from campus and declaring that “the safety of our students and staff is a top priority at our school.”
Echols remains in custody pending a scheduled May 24 preliminary hearing in Sacramento Superior Court.
Pinkerton told The Bee in an April 5 statement that parents were not notified in Kinney’s case because employee information and personnel matters are kept confidential and that an investigating agency “often leads our communication effort to avoid jeopardizing a case.”
She walked back her statement when asked whether such confidentiality provisions extended to school volunteers.
“Volunteers are not employees. That statement was made in error,” she said.
In another statement April 12, calling the arrest and indictment “alarming,” the district sought to clarify its position and explain why it did not notify parents of Kinney’s arrest, saying parents are notified when an arrest is made based on a student complaint or when the district cooperates with an arresting agency in an investigation.
Kinney’s December indictment stemmed from a monthslong investigation by U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents that found Kinney allegedly masqueraded as a boy named “Josh” and met in an internet chat room with Krisha Viramontes of San Francisco last June.
From June 2016 through September 2016, Kinney and Viramontes discussed and began exchanging child pornography, with Viramontes sending Kinney sexually explicit images of a 15-year-old boy and images of himself performing sex acts with the teenager, agents alleged in an 11-page arrest warrant affidavit.
Viramontes was arrested by San Francisco police in September and indicted in December on suspicion of six felony counts, including possessing, producing and conspiring to produce child pornography.
Investigators discovered the alleged connection to Kinney after combing through Viramontes’ smartphone. That led investigators to Kinney’s internet service provider information and email address, according to the affidavit.
Elk Grove police investigators then traced cellular phone “pings” allegedly from Kinney’s phone to an area around Prairie Elementary and back to Kinney’s Elk Grove home, the affidavit states. But it was a San Francisco detective who noticed a dog wearing a brightly colored harness in photos on Kinney’s Facebook page and in a social media profile photo on the site he allegedly used to communicate with Viramontes that led authorities to arrest Kinney, according to the affidavit.
An email memo sent April 3 by Prairie Elementary School Principal Robin Riley to “all staff classified and certificated,” and obtained by The Bee, announced a required training session April 12 on mandated reporting. The training was intended to help teachers and administrators identify and report child abuse and neglect, Pinkerton said.
Pinkerton said the Prairie training session was not related to Kinney’s arrest or The Bee’s inquiries.