Crime

He was a school bus driver. Now he faces sex assault charges.

A former bus driver contracted by the State College Area School District was arraigned Tuesday morning after accusations that he carried on an sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student for almost a year.

Matthew S. Dunlap, 25, of Port Matilda faces several felony charges, including statutory sexual assault of a minor, corruption of minors, unlawful contact with a minor and disseminating explicit sexual material to a minor. Charges also include two misdemeanor counts of corruption of minors and indecent assault.

District Judge Tom Jordan set bail at $200,000, and Dunlap was taken from the chambers to the Centre County Correctional Facility by State College police officers.

According to State College police, on Sept. 28, the State College Area High School resource officer received a complaint that Dunlap, who had been contracted through Long Motor Buses, had allegedly been acting inappropriately with several students on a school bus.

The officer spoke to several students as part of the investigation, police said, and learned that a female student spoke with Dunlap “almost every day” at the bus stop, though she did not ride the bus. Students allegedly reported they overheard the student and Dunlap holding “suspicious” conversations about texting.

The officer later received a call from the mother who reportedly spoke to her daughter about the relationship, police said. The minor reportedly admitted to having sexual relations with Dunlap over the summer and had allegedly sent him nude photos of herself and received nude photos of him as well.

Later that day, the minor reported she had received a text from Dunlap saying he had been fired from his job as a driver, police said, and directed her to delete him off her phone, including Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and text messages.

The minor allegedly admitted to “sexting” with Dunlap, police said, exchanging nude photographs of each other. During the summer months, she said, she and Dunlap had intercourse three times at her home.

The minor said she believed Dunlap was in his 20s during the time of contact, police said, and reported that after each time they had intercourse, he told her “not to tell anybody because he would get in trouble.”

A forensic examination of Dunlap’s cellphone showed communications between himself and the minor, police said, through texting, Snapchat, Instagram, Facetime and call logs. Specific communications between Dunlap and the minor were recovered, indicating three possible dates they had intercourse.

A news conference with Chief John Gardner, SCASD Superintendent Bob O’Donnell and Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller was held after the arraignment Tuesday at the State College Municipal Building. Gardner provided details into the investigation and outlined the charges and events that occurred at the private residence.

O’Donnell said it was a difficult matter for the district to face, adding that the district’s first priority is to provide all the support to the student and her family that they can. Dunlap was removed as a driver immediately after he was notified of the incident and hasn’t transported students since.

“While this took place at a private property,” O’Donnell said, “we emphasize it’s still our role to keep students safe. To achieve that, we rely on students, faculty, staff, parents and our relationship with the police department.”

Gardner praised his officers for how swiftly and professionally the department and school personnel handled the incident, referring also to the cooperation police had with the District Attorney’s Office. He also emphasized that none of the activity between Dunlap and the minor took place on school property and, at this point, there is nothing to indicate there are additional minors involved.

“I think this incident serves to illustrate the important relationships ... (the police) have with the school district and district personnel,” Gardner said. “As a parent with a daughter in the school district, I feel quite comfortable with the way things are investigated and handled.”

While Dunlap had passed all background checks for the district, he said, the checks are not foolproof. He encouraged all parents to remain vigilant when monitoring their childrens’ cellphone use and social media presence.

Parks Miller commended the State College police and SCASD for their proactive approach to the incident.

“This crime did not happen on school district property,” she said, “but the school district made sure to reach out to all of us. We work as a team, and they are very concerned about all their students.”

The investigation comes on the heels of three other recent criminal cases involving district employees or contractors.

In 2014, another contracted bus driver, Daisey Joe Hartley, was charged with corruption of minors and other counts after it was reported she furnished alcohol to children and exposed them to pornographic videos and sex toys. She pleaded to the corruption charge and was sentenced to two years probation.

In April, former custodian Adam Hinton, 26, of Port Matilda, was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for possession of thousands of images of child pornography. Police recovered the images on a laptop in Hinton’s car parked at Radio Park Elementary.

A month later, a former State College Area High School teacher, Wesley Amy, 28, of Bellefonte, was sentenced for criminal attempt related to sexual abuse of minors and corruption of minors. Amy, who taught at State High for just seven months, is set to serve two to four years in state prison for soliciting nude pictures from female students for higher grades.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

  Comments