A Sarcoxie School Board member and former associate professor at Missouri Southern State University was in federal custody Friday on a charge of possession of child pornography.
The investigation started when Sarcoxie school officials reported that some students said he had exposed himself while they were working at his farm.
John R. Lewis, 67, 4360 Dandelion Road, Sarcoxie, was arrested Thursday night shortly before a school board meeting on a federal complaint alleging that child pornography was found Dec. 5 on computers he owned.
An affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court in Springfield by Charles Root, a Joplin police officer working with the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, states that child pornography was found on computers and laptop computers taken from the home of Lewis on Oct. 4, 2012. Investigators went to his home that day to talk to him about allegations that Lewis had exposed himself to a Sarcoxie High School student, according to the affidavit.
According to the officer’s sworn statement, the Jasper County prosecutor’s office was contacted after a school district official overhead a conversation among some male students. “The school official later talked to one of the students, who confirmed he was present at Lewis’ residence when Lewis exposed his penis in close proximity to another student’s face,” the affidavit states.
Investigators then interviewed two students who said that the exposure incident happened in the late spring of 2012 when students were working for Lewis on his farm.
“Both students disclosed that after swimming in the creek with Lewis, he stood up in an all terrain vehicle in which one of the students was seated next to him, when he pulled down his underwear exposing his penis just a few feet from the face of the student seated in the front seat of the all terrain vehicle,” the affidavit states. “The students disclosed conversations Lewis had with them about masturbating and how he would touch them on the buttocks when they were working.”
During an interview with officers Dec. 5 at his home, Lewis denied exposing himself to any to any Sarcoxie High School student who worked at his farm, according to the sworn statement.
After the interview, the officers asked to search his computers for child pornography. Lewis said he had a desktop and a laptop, and pointed out the desktop computer in an office. “Lewis stated he had downloaded images of naked children from a nudist website to his desktop computer” and refused to consent to a search, the affidavit states.
Based on the disclosure, the officers obtained a search warrant. The officers found another computer in a basement bedroom along with some electronic storage devices, the officer stated. They were submitted to the Cyber Crimes Task Force for analysis. Investigators found 19 multimedia files and 113 images of suspected child pornography.
“The multimedia files and still images primarily depicted male children, with the youngest child being approximately 5 years of age” engaged in sex acts, the affidavit reads.
Lewis is serving his first term on the Sarcoxie School Board and has filed for re-election.
Kevin Goddard, school superintendent, contacted Friday, said, “Because of the ongoing investigation, there’s very little I can say.”
In a written statement, he said: “Nothing is more important to the district than providing a safe and secure learning and working environment for children. The district is aware that law enforcement authorities are investigating allegations against a school board member. The district is providing its full cooperation in connection with the investigation, and will continue to do so. However, the district cannot give specific information about the investigation due to state and federal confidentiality laws.”
Lewis has done volunteer work with the city of Sarcoxie.
Mayor Don Triplett, asked if Lewis served in any city capacity involving children, said, “Not to my knowledge. He is active in a number of different things. He was on the TIF (tax increment financing) Commission. He is active in the local Chamber of Commerce and different groups,” Triplett said. He said no conclusions should be drawn based on an allegations. “Let’s let the courts do their job,” Triplett said.
Among his civic activities, Lewis also is a Jasper County Republican committeeman and a member of the 7th Congressional District Republican Committee.
As a school board member, he spoke against former Sheriff Archie Dunn distributing T-shirts to schoolchildren last fall that promoted the Drug Awareness Resistance Education (DARE) program but also had advertising on it for Dunn’s re-election campaign.
A spokeswoman for MSSU said Friday that records show Lewis was employed as an associate professor from 1999 to 2008.
A detention hearing is set for Wednesday in federal court in Springfield. A judge will determine if Lewis is eligible for bond and, if so, how much.