PEMBROKE PINES, FLA. (WSVN) - A teacher’s assistant, who works closely with special needs students, has been arrested after being accused of crossing the line.
On Tuesday, 53-year-old John Harrison Smith was arrested after being accused of molesting two disabled teens.
Smith is a paraprofessional, classroom assistant, at West Broward High School.
According to the arrest report, Smith had two inappropriate interactions in front of three witnesses with two victims, ages 14 and 15 years old, and both incidents occurred on the same day.
Police said both victims have mental disabilities, in police terminology, and also have verbal delays.
“Therefore they are more vulnerable than the average student would be,” said Pembroke Pines Police Maj. Al Xiques. “This individual took advantage of that and committed these crimes.”
The incident is said to have taken place inside the classroom with special needs students on Dec. 13, according to Pembroke Pines Police.
“It kind of brought back nightmares again,” said a woman.
The woman, who asked not to show her face, was outside the school on Monday and told the press her sister is a third victim but no action was taken in that case.
“Nothing was done for my sister until two more victims, until very recently. It took a year,” she said, “and I feel like it should be known that this has been going on for over a year.”
She also told 7News Smith was removed from the classroom briefly, but she’s unaware of any other action after that.
7News spoke with Broward County Schools over the phone, and they said an investigation had taken place in the fall of 2021, after complaints from other staff members, a student told investigators Smith gave her massages in her “butt, back and face.”
A school district standards committee unanimously found just cause to discipline him with a letter of reprimand but a district administrator disagreed, and instead he was given a letter urging him to be more professional, and he returned to the school.
The Pembroke Pines Police Department said they had found probable cause to charge him with a crime, but no charge was filed by prosecutors.
Parents outside the school shared their reactions and thoughts of the incident.
“Super concerned. I am really, really afraid to keep bringing my kid here,” said Jorge Gomez, a parent.
“That is terrible,” said Juan Arraiz, another parent. “Wow, and this is a really good school, and we trust our kids with this school, and so far as a parent so many of the teachers seem– they are really great teachers.”
7News reached out to the State Attorney’s Office for a statement regarding the fall 2021 incident and they said the case has not been closed and remains open.
Smith has been charged with lewd and lascivious molestation and lewd conduct.
Police believe there may be more victims and are asking they come forward to report it to investigators.
Copyright 2023 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.