Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Police: Teacher stripped developmentally delayed child as punishment

Thomas Washburn before his arrest (left), and after

Thomas Washburn before his arrest (left), and after

A teacher in Mesa, Arizona, who was arrested on January 15, 2014, is facing 25 counts of indecent exposure and one count of child abuse after, police say, he stripped the shirt off a developmentally delayed kindergarten girl as a form of punishment.

Thomas Washburn, 54, a teacher at Adams Elementary School, was having a bad day, according to police. Witnesses reported him shouting at his more than two-dozen kindergartners during class time. Regarding the incident, one parent told reporters, “She told me yesterday that he was really aggressive — telling them to shut up — real aggressively.” The child in question, who was born prematurely and is developmentally delayed, was apparently frightened by Washburn’s alleged outburst and hid her face in her shirt.

Police report that Washburn told the child to take her face out of her shirt; she did not comply so he took her shirt off. The girl then began to cry. After letting the topless kindergartner cry for ten minutes in front of the other children, Washburn returned the shirt. At the time there was one other adult in the class room, an aide.

Washburn notified the mother of his actions when she came to pickup her daughter at the end of the day. According to Mesa police Detective Steve Berry, “It doesn’t appear that he thought he had done anything wrong. He was simply going to tell mom what he had done to discipline the child.”

 The outraged mother alerted the principal. Police were summoned to the school and Washburn at the time was arrested and charged with only one count of child abuse and one count of indecent exposure. The other counts of indecent exposure were added later, one for each of the other children witnessing the abuse.

Washburn has only been a teacher in Arizona since 2006, and only taught at Adams. He is on administrative leave pending further investigation.

On the school’s website Washburn is listed as a first-grade teacher. In his profile he describes himself as a certified Conscious Discipline Instructor, which he tries explain, “Two sayings that are at the very core of this philosophy are ‘Children don’t care what you know until they know that you care’ and ‘Teach only love for that is what we are’ and I try not only to teach by these philosophies but live by them as well.”

Later in the profile he adds “On a personal note, having been certified for foster care and licensed for adoption, I am looking forward to becoming a single father for the first time and am waiting the placement of children in my home.  In the meantime, I have enjoyed the opportunity of taking care of several children on a respite basis.”

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