Sex offender worked as substitute teacher in Russell County
Man committed offense as juvenile, failed to report his employment
A registered sex offender worked for months as a substitute teacher for Russell County schools before deputies arrested him in December for failing to tell sheriff’s officials about his job, officials said.
Nigel Kendall Cochran, 24, was arrested by Russell County deputies Dec. 20 on a charge of failing to report his employment, records state.
A Juvenile Court judge gave Cochran sex offender status about six years ago, when he was an adult, though he had committed the offense years earlier as a juvenile. That status would have been lifted in about four years if Cochran had no more sex offender-related violations, said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor. Sex offender status is rarely lifted for those who commit the offenses as adults.
The Juvenile Court status means his criminal history doesn’t appear in the school system’s background check. He became a substitute teacher for the Russell County School District in May, which violated no law at the time because he was a juvenile when he committed the offense, said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor.
Taylor said Cochran failed to report his new job to the sheriff’s office, which is against the law, and that his deputies learned about Cochran’s job when they investigated a student’s December complaint that Cochran had acted “inappropriately,” Taylor said.
That investigation showed Cochran violated no laws against that student. However, it alerted deputies that Cochran was working as a substitute and had not registered that information with the sheriff’s office, the sheriff added.
“He was a registered offender that as part of his registration law and requirements, he had to notify the sheriff’s office within five days of his employment,” Taylor said.
If Cochran had told authorities in May about his job, no charges would have been filed. However, a July change in the law would have restricted him from continuing his job at a school, Taylor added.
Under the new law, no sex offender, regardless of juvenile status or otherwise, can work in a school.
Russell County schools superintendent Mike Green said Cochran passed a background test to become a substitute.
“There’s a process they go through,” Green said. “There’s got to be background checks. If he got on our list, there was nothing in his background check.”
Malissa Valdes-Hubert, public information manager with the Alabama Department of Education, said her department does statewide background checks for potential teachers.
“We did the checks,” she said of Cochran. “He came back clear.”
A search for Cochran in the state’s sex offender registry shows no results. Taylor said that’s because Cochran’s sex offender status is through Juvenile Court.
The sheriff said that while Cochran had to report where he worked, the law restricts his residence from appearing on a sex offender registry search.
“We don’t make those calls. We don’t make those decisions,” Taylor said. “And that’s why it doesn’t appear. That’s why the school system didn’t know about it.”
Taylor said July’s change in the law, which restricts any sex offender from working in a school, should stop Cochran’s situation from repeating.
Cochran is currently free on $5,000 bond. His case likely will appear before a grand jury in May, officials said.
The felony offense Cochran faces carries a sentence of two to 20 years in prison.