By James Swift, The Daily Tribune News
An open records request filed by The Daily Tribune News reveals that a former City of Cartersville Police Department lieutenant resigned from the force in lieu of termination last month after an investigation uncovered he sent numerous inappropriate text messages to Cartersville Middle School students.
Internal affairs files indicate Ryan Prescott resigned two days after an administrative investigation began on March 2.
According to records completed by Cartersville Police Deputy Chief Jason DiPrima, Cartersville Police Chief Frank McCann was contacted by Cartersville City Schools Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse regarding a complaint that Prescott — who was serving as a school resource officer at CMS — had inappropriately messaged several female students.
During an interview with DiPrima, Prescott confirmed that he had been in contact with three CMS students via text messaging.
“Prescott stated that he taught several classes at the school, to include ‘Sexting and Social Media,’” DiPrima’s report reads. “However, Prescott stated he was unfamiliar with some of the forms of social media, specifically Snapchat. Prescott stated that one of the eighth-grade students demonstrated to him how to use Snapchat and assisted him in getting it on his personal phone.”
The investigation indicates that Prescott began using the app to contact that student and at least two other children at CMS.
“Prescott stated his intent was [to] build a ‘trusting’ relationship with the student since he had concerns about her being bullied,’” DiPrima’s report reads. “Prescott also stated on several occasions that he felt the student was ‘setting him up’ because she was erasing comments that she had made to him regarding her sexual preferences.”
Text messages recovered from Prescott’s phone indicate he advised one student “don’t tell people you are talking to me … rumors will spread” and asked her if she was gay.
“Do all your friends know you like girls [sic] butt?” one message from Prescott — using the pseudonym “Bubba Ryan” — reads.
He then requested the child send him a picture of the student’s purported girlfriend.
“I honestly think you should be opened [sic] minded,” Prescott messaged the student at one point. “I’m not against it but choices in life affect your future … positive or negative.”
In the interview with DiPrima, Prescott said the exchanges “may appear inappropriate,” but that was not his intent.
“When asked for further explanation as to why he would discuss with a student her sexual preferences and suggest that he had Canes Cash to provide her, Prescott referred back to his initial defense that he was trying to build a relationship with her to help her, not ‘groom’ her,” the report reads.
CPD records indicate that at least three parents of CMS students were contacted by Cartersville Middle School Principal Matt Gibson between March 2-3, who purportedly told them their children had been in communications with an adult who was not employed by the school.
The mother of one student told DiPrima she was more concerned about the volume of messages being sent by Prescott than the content, but told the investigator “her daughter indicated that the officer had other conversations with other students that were more explicit, such as ‘hooking up at school.’”
The parent also told DiPrima she felt “weird” about a particular message Prescott sent, in which the SRO told a student “I’ll give you a finger up, too, butthead.” While the parent said her child did not receive any photographs from Prescott, she nonetheless felt “the messages were inappropriate considering her daughter’s age and Prescott’s position with the school and agency.”
The school system issued a press release on the investigation March 4, telling parents “school officials acted immediately according to school system protocols to address the situation in cooperation with CPD.”
Phone records also indicate Prescott told students he was “drunk texting everyone” on the evening of March 1 and aired concerns that the children may “save” him saying a “bad word” on the social media platform.
“You get a spanking,” he told one student, “I get fired.”
During the interview with DiPrima, Prescott said he had not been drinking alcohol at all that night. He further denied requesting, receiving or sending photographs containing sexual or inappropriate content to or from any CMS students.
“Following the interview, notification that he was being placed on administrative leave with pay was provided,” DiPrima’s report reads.
Ultimately, DiPrima determined that Prescott violated several CPD standard operating procedures pertaining to conduct and social network use.
“The content of these messages was unprofessional and inappropriate to the extent that it reflects negatively on the agency, violates public trust, discredits the agency and causes embarrassment to the agency in the eye of the public we serve, to include the Cartersville Middle School and students he was assigned to protect,” the investigation concluded.
Although the case was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Cartersville Assistant City Attorney Keith Lovell told The Daily Tribune News that the GBI opted to not investigate the matter any further.
City documents do not indicate that Prescott is — or at any point was — facing criminal charges as part of the investigation.