Monday, September 29, 2008

Phony veteran highlights loopholes in system

I'm really proud of the reporting that went into tonight's story about a local teacher who were exposing as a fake war hero. Not that I did anything special by using public records to expose an actor posing as a veteran, but that our story will illuminate a bigger issue: we as a society need better oversight of just who is teaching our children.

The basics:

Benjamin Terril was arrested on Labor Day for pointing a loaded gun at another man's head in South Akron. Terril teaches Science at Buchtel High School, so his arrest became newsworthy. Police found drugs, dozens of guns and even some grenades in Terril's home, which begged the question of "just who is this guy?"

So a few days after his arrest, I began to dissect Terril's employment history, and here's what I discovered:

In 1996, Benjamin Terril applied for a teaching job with the Akron Public Schools. He submitted a resume claiming he served in the 82nd Airborne Division from 1975-1991 and included a letter of reference with claims he was wounded in Desert Storm. If true, that would qualify Terril for the purple heart.

What's awful is that none of it is true, and the Akron Public Schools NEVER verified his resume before hiring him.

The district also didn't verify another job Terril put on his resume (a range officer with Broward County, FL) that we also found to be false.

In both cases, I used public records and phone calls to determine that Terril's resume was bogus, so why didn't APS?

Additionally, I used public records to determine that Terril lied about having a clean criminal history. He has prior arrests and convictions, including a felony conviction, that no knew about until I checked it out.

To the credit of APS, the laws in 1996 only mandated a local background check (Summit County) which came back clean. Terril was able to hide his criminal past because his crimes included an arrest in Stark County (misdemeanor conviction for DUI) and another in Florida (Felony conviction for Carrying a Concealed Weapon).

Since he had a verifiable teaching degree from the U. of Akron with strong recommendations from his student teaching assignments, I can only guess that the folks who did the hiring assumed that Terril was worth the investment and didn't check out the rest of his resume before hiring him.

If true, that's a bad reason for cutting corners.

For what it's worth, the employment file indicates that human resources did ask Terril for a copy of his DD214, which is the form that verifies military service. There's no evidence that Terril ever provided any evidence nor is there anything to indicate the the district followed up with its initial request for more info.

Military fakes burn real veterans to the core

I had a chance to sit down with a local man who served in the real 82nd Airborne in Desert Storm, and he put Terril's make-believe war service into perspective.

He told me that phonies don't discredit the military as much as they discredit the person who is living a double life. How can they ever be trusted again?

As a soldier and veteran, it bothers me when others misrepresent themselves, but it really burns when someone goes to the lengths that Terril did. Some troops will embellish what they actually did on the field of battle; even the military has been guilty of stretching the truth to make a story sound better than it is (Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman, etc.). Yet, when someone like Terril goes the extra steps to use the military as a job reference and then add the extra chest-thumping details of serving in the 82nd Airborne -- to include being wounded in combat -- that's hard for many in uniform to fathom.

Under the Stolen Valor Act signed by President Bush a few years ago, anyone who misrepresents themselves as a veteran can be charged with a misdemeanor and serve up to one year in prison.

I was skeptical from the moment I looked at Terril's resume. If he lied about his criminal history, why wouldn't he lie about his work history?

When I saw his resume indicated that he worked with the "Eighty Second Airborne" I suspected it was fake. Rarely does anyone affiliated with the military ever spell it out like that. It's nearly always "82nd Airborne". How could this guy spend 15+ years in the military and not know that?

Also, rarely does anyone leave the military voluntarily at 15+ years. If you serve 20 years of active service, you're eligible for a military pension. So his separation date was also a red flag to me.

School district oversight

Superintendent David James is at least in a position where he can blame the previous administration for hiring Terril and promise to do a better job of screening future teachers. The district is also conducting new, mandatory FBI checks on all employees. Terril's new check was set for the fall of 2009 to coincide with his teaching license being up for renewal. The district believes that at the very least, a new background check would have uncovered Terril's past convictions.

Within Terril's teaching file was a reprimand for threatening to bring a shotgun to school and kill a student. Several teachers heard him and reported it.

Anyone surprised that a statement like that didn't warrant a stronger penalty? or at least a transfer to another school?

I feel like I could write about this all day ... but we'll let the story -- and Terril -- speak for themselves. Still, I'd like your initial thoughts.

Part 1 is tonight on Channel 3 at 6. Part 2 airs Tuesday night at 6.

Eric

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Mr. James for conducting new checks! I urge parents to do independent checks also. It is traditional to drop the kids off at school and hope that they are with trusted adults. In this day and age, we must do our own investigations to see who we are leaving our children with. Thanks to the internet, we have information at our fingertips.

Why in the world was this man still teaching? I can not believe that he made previous threats and was still teaching ANYWHERE, let alone in the APS.

Thanks for this report.

Anonymous said...

It could go either way, but follow up the story that his wife and child were killed in a DUI accident. If true, the man needs compassion, not condemnation.

Eric Mansfield said...

Wow. That would be news to me, and I think news to the school district and the man's attorney.

I'll check that out though .. Eric

Anonymous said...

Yeah, her name was supposedly to have been Amy and their son, Ben. Also until recently; "friends" were led to believe he was the full-time caregiver for his step father with Alzheimers. He wove a HUGE elaborate story about his Dad having been in the VA Hospital and was pulled out because of lack of care and Ben was fighting the VA for "custody". Geez, he had us all fooled.

Eric Mansfield said...

Anonymous,
Can you contact me directly and fill me in with a few more details on what you're mentioning here? This is intriguing.

you could email me at ericmansfield@wkyc.com or call me at 330-535-4105 in the Akron Newsroom .. Thanks .. Eric

Anonymous said...

What a disgusting, pathetic human being. My husband and I were out about a year after he returned from Iraq to a welcome home party for a girl in the Air Force. There were quite a few of veterans at this Akron establishment at this gathering. A young man listening to us all told my hisband he also was in Iraq. When he was asked who he was with, where he was based out of and other questions it was apparent he was NOT in the military at all. It was the first time I ever met anyone who lied about being in the military and at war. It made us sick that someone would try to lie about such a thing. You have to wonder how many others are out there doing the same.

Level_Head said...

Excellent catch on this, by the way -- good work!

===|==============/ Level Head