NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A former New Hanover County Schools special education assistant teacher is in jail under a $1 million bond after being charged with indecent liberties with a child and statutory rape of a child under the age of 15.
Nicholas Oates, 38, was arrested Saturday and is being held in the New Hanover County Jail. An arrest warrant states the alleged victim is 14 years old and that the offenses allegedly took place between June 22 and July 7.
Oates made his first court appearance Monday afternoon and his attorney, Jason Vaughn, asked for Oates' bond to be reduced, citing his client's ties to the community.
The judge kept the bond intact and Oates' next court date is July 26.
Law enforcement officials interviewed the alleged victim Monday and she admitted to having sex with Oates. Over the weekend, authorities set up a controlled phone call between the teen and Oates. During that call, he admitted to the sex and added a video of them having sex could be found on his computer.
According to a spokesperson with New Hanover County Schools, Oates was hired at Myrtle Grove Middle School on Jan. 19, 2016, and resigned on Feb. 1, 2017.
In 2016, a 14-year-old male student at MGMS showed his mother text messages between Oates and a female student the boy was "dating," the mom said Monday. In those texts, Oates allegedly referenced the size of his genitals and told the girl she needed to leave her boyfriend and be with him.
After seeing the texts, the male student's mother said she spoke to Myrtle Grove Principal Sam Highsmith and showed Highsmith the messages. According to the mother, Highsmith said he would handle the problem and there would be consequences for Oates, but nothing happened and Oates remained employed at the school, the mother said.
The boy said he talked to Highsmith as well, explaining that Oates requested photos of the girl through text message. Highsmith told the boy not to talk about it, according to the boy.
When WECT asked Highsmith about the incident, he referred us to the New Hanover County Schools superintendent and a school board attorney since it is a human resources matter.
The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office confirmed that on Dec. 1, 2016, Oates was being investigated in reference to text messages between him and a minor. That incident was brought to the attention of the school system and investigated by a school resource officer at Myrtle Grove, but it was deemed that no crime was committed.
An NHC Schools spokesperson said the school system did a background check on Oates and verified charges against him were dismissed prior to his employment with NHCS. The school system confirmed Oates was suspended without pay Dec. 2-13, 2016 and again Jan. 26, 2017, to the date of his resignation.
"Personnel laws prevent the NHCS from giving the reason for his resignation," the spokesperson's email read. "Myrtle Grove was his only assignment with NHCS."
When asked about the school system letting parents know about Oates' alleged behavior, the spokesperson cited personnel laws that "prevent NHCS from informing parents (or anyone else) when there have been allegations of misconduct against an employee. Additionally, personnel laws prevent NHCS from disclosing whether complaints are filed against its employees except in cases where the employee is dismissed due to such complaints."
Limitations imposed by state personnel law prevented NHCS' superintendent or deputy superintendent from speaking to WECT about Oates, according to the spokesperson.
Oates also worked for Communities in Schools of Cape Fear (CISCF), according to a spokesperson with the program. He was a part of the staff for less than two months serving as a part-time after-school coordinator at the CISCF youth center, WIRE, from late October 2017 to mid-December 2017.
A CISCF spokesperson couldn't discuss the reason Oates was employed for only six or seven weeks, but she did say a background check was performed and a check of the national sex offender registry was also made. Oates passed both, the spokesperson said.
CISCF has not been contacted by authorities and the group said it doesn't think any of Oates' alleged misconduct took place while he was employed there, according to the spokesperson.