Former NHCS employee had history of alleged violent sexual assaults against women before he was hired

Nicholas Oates (Source: New Hanover County Detention Center)
Nicholas Oates (Source: New Hanover County Detention Center)
Published: Aug. 13, 2019 at 5:16 PM EDT
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[Warning: This article contains a graphic description of a violent, sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.]

Reporter Ben Schachtman (left) of joins Jon Evans to talk about his investigative report on background checks done on former NHCS employee.

WILMINGTON, N.C. (PORT CITY DAILY) - Last summer, authorities arrested Nicholas Lavon Oates, 39, a former special education teaching assistant employed by the New Hanover County School (NHCS) district, charged with sex crimes against a student. But in the years before he was hired, Oates was repeatedly arrested for violent assaults. NHCS said they were aware of two of the arrests, which were later dismissed, but not the details of the incidents.

According to records from New Hanover County District Court, the Wilmington Police Department (WPD), the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO), and other law enforcement agencies, Oates was accused of communicating threats, false imprisonment (kidnapping), physical and sexual assault, threatening multiple women with a firearm, as well as repeatedly threatening to commit suicide if women broke off sexual relationships with him.

Oates was hired at Myrtle Grove Middle School, where he worked from January 19, 2016, until he resigned on February 1, 2017. A year and a half later, Oates was arrested by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO), charged with statutory rape and indecent liberties with a child — specifically, a student at Myrtle Grove.

Warrants and other documents related to Oates’ indictment allege that Oates sent sexual messages and images to a 13-year-old student while he worked at Myrtle Grove and later began a sexual relationship with her. NHCSO investigated Oates at the time, around early December of 2016, but no charges were filed – apparently because the victim refused to participate in the investigation.

Oates was twice suspended without pay but not fired, although sending sexual messages and images seems to be a violation of NHCS policy (number 6442) on teacher-student relationships, which reads in part:

All employees are prohibited from dating, courting or entering into a romantic or sexual relationship with any student enrolled in the school system regardless of the student’s age. Consent is not a defense to this prohibition. Employees engaging in or attempting to engage in such inappropriate conduct shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, and may be subject to criminal action as provided in NCGS §14-202.4 and NCGS §14-27.7.

NHCS repeatedly told media outlets that state personnel laws and the district’s own policy prevented them from commenting on Oates’ employment or resignation.

Oates was later hired at Communities in Schools Cape Fear, where he worked for less than two months between October and December of 2017.

Oates has several arrests, including marijuana possession in Duplin County and a DUI charge (later reduced to a ‘failure to maintain lane’ charge and ultimately dismissed) in Brunswick County. But he also faced charges for three separate allegations of violent and sexual assaults on women.

Wilmington Police Department records still include the incident and case number related to the...
Wilmington Police Department records still include the incident and case number related to the domestic violence protection order issued against former NHCS employee Nicholas Oates. (Port City Daily photo / Wilmington Police Department)(WPD)

On May 23, 2008, WPD arrested Oates, three days after an alleged assault. Based on the case number, WPD was able to confirm that the arrest was for assault on a female and false imprisonment by Oates and that officers confiscated several firearms from Oates. However, beyond that WPD was unable to provide any additional information.

However, according to a domestic violence protection order filed in New Hanover County District Court, on May 20, 2008, Oates held his 22-year-old ex-girlfriend at gunpoint, questioned her about her sexual activity, threatened her, assaulted her sexually, and then prevented her from leaving by placing her in a chokehold and kicking her. Oates also allegedly threatened to “blow his brains out” if the victim ended their relationship.

The victim swore to the following statement:

“He pulled out a gun and put it at my left temple. He told me I wasn’t leaving and that he had everything to make me happy. He began asking was it someone else, pushed me to the floor and began choking me. Then he held me at gunpoint again and told me to tell the truth. He said ‘I thought you said this was my pussy,’ and then he jabbed my vagina and started choking me again calling me a slut and saying ‘that’s what you wanted, right?’ Then he stopped choking me and began kicking me. I crawled over to get my things and get up to head toward the door and he pushed me back down and pulled out the gun and blocked the door. Then I snapped, I ran to the kitchen and grabbed pliers from a shelf and headed at the window. He tackled me. I was screaming and he was on top of me saying everything to quiet me and contain me. Then he told me to leave. I grabbed my things and ran out the door.”

Sworn testimony from a 2008 domestic violence protection order filed in New Hanover County...
Sworn testimony from a 2008 domestic violence protection order filed in New Hanover County District Court. (Port City Daily photo / New Hanover County District Court)(New Hanover County District Court)

The victim stated that Oates “needs therapy,” adding “he has deep issues that need to be addressed, not just concerning relationships.” The complaint notes that Oates had access to two, possibly three firearms. WPD confirmed that at least two firearms were confiscated and kept in their custody.

Two years later, Oates was arrested again; NHCSO confirmed the arrest for assault on a female but could not locate any additions details.

According to another domestic violence protection order, Oates assaulted another ex-girlfriend on August 19, 2010. The victim alleges that Oates grabbed her and pushed her, later placing a gun to his own head and threatening to take his own life if she ended the relationship. He also threatened to “get” her.

According to the complaint, the victim was able to take Oates’ weapon away from him during the altercation. WPD was able to confirm that they accepted custody of a .25 caliber handgun. According to a sworn statement Oates made to NHCSO, he had also recently sold another firearm two weeks before the alleged assault.

The victim ultimately decided not to pursue the protective order.

Law enforcement records of Nicholas Oates’ 2015 arrest remain, although details of the incident...
Law enforcement records of Nicholas Oates’ 2015 arrest remain, although details of the incident have apparently been removed from the official file. (Port City Daily photo / New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office)(New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office)

A third incident took place on September 23, 2015, when Oates was again arrested for assault on a female. The arrest is still listed on the NHCSO incident list, but neither WPD or NHCSO have any further information about the incident.

Three months later, Oates was hired at Myrtle Grove.

Port City Daily provided NHCS Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley, Board of Education Chair Lisa Estep, and district spokesperson Valita Quattlebaum with details of the three incidents involving Oates. Estep and Markley did not respond, but according to Quattlebaum, the district was aware of two of the arrests, but not the details of the incidents.

According to Quattlebaum, the district subjected Oates to the same background check as all other employees and found nothing to disqualify his employment.

“Prior to hiring Mr. Oates, New Hanover County Schools conducted its standard employee background check, which included checking with his last employer, checking his personal references, and obtaining a criminal background check through our vendor – Background Investigation Bureau,” Quattlebaum said.

The background check covered address history, state and national criminal records, multi-county search, sex offender registry, and a security watch list.

“The criminal background check showed only two incidents other than traffic and finance-related items that resulted in misdemeanor charges, all of which were dismissed by the Court prior to Mr. Oates being hired,” Quattlebaum said, adding that the information on the background check “did not include many of the details” described above.

Quattlebaum clarified that the 2010 and 2015 incidents were listed on the background check, but that details were not included.

“Our background check did not show any charges against Nicholas Oates from 2008. It appears the other two dates you mentioned (August 2010 and September 2015) basically match the timeframe from our background check. However, the information received by the district did not include details of the allegations. They did not reference a gun, suicide attempt, or other details,” Quattlebaum said.

It’s not clear why Oates’ 2008 arrest did not show up on NHCS’s background check, nor is clear why the files for his 2008, 2010, and 2015 arrests contain no additional information.

Oates’ other employer noted he had not been convicted of any violent crime. Executive Director at Communities In Schools of Cape Fear Louise Hicks wrote, “No offenses from those dates were on our record check and there were no convictions on Mr. Oates’ background check that precluded him from employment at the time we hired him.”

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