The name looked familiar. The man’s face, too. But he was difficult to place right off. After all, 20-plus years had passed since Doug Shields was in the headlines.
Yet there he was, deep inside Tuesday’s paper. On page A11, down in the lower right hand corner, a closely cropped photo showed Shields, smiling, in a happy time in his life.
That’s not uncommon in an obituary. Death notices — old-school obits — are designed to share the news of a person’s passing along with a few of life’s cherished moments. Shields’ obit noted that he was a graduate of High Point University, a high-school teacher for a time, an avid golfer, a father and a friend.
“Doug was known for his sense of humor and his caring heart for his three treasured daughters and their friends,” his obituary reads.
But there’s more to the story. Something darker, more sinister, that some might argue is best forgotten, unmentioned and left in the past.
A common occurrence
It’s taboo to speak ill of the dead. For the most part, that’s a good rule.
But on occasion, there are things that cannot be ignored or denied — especially when they serve as a timeless reminder about what’s really important.
Shields was a teacher at East Forsyth High School in the 1990s. And there is just no way to sugarcoat his actions while there.
“Shields, 38, pleaded guilty ... to three sex-related charges involving students, including allegations that he videotaped himself having sex with current and former students,” reads a far different sort of story published in June 2001.
God help us, but those kinds of stories are far more common than we would like — or care — to admit.
In exchange for his plea, Shields got a suspended sentence of 16 to 20 months in prison with three years on probation and was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and pay $2,300 in fines and court costs. He served 90 days in jail.
Shields lost his job, of course. But after paying his debt to society, by all available public accounts, he led a decent, quiet life, found a new career and avoided further trouble with the law. That is to his credit.
Forgive but not forget
“Sometimes good people do bad things,” said Pansy Glanton, a veteran sex-crimes prosecutor who handled the case. “But this wasn’t a mistake.”
What happened after Shields’ arrest is the part of the story that must be repeated. Hard as it is to believe now, at the time, North Carolina had no laws barring teachers from having sex with students older than 16.
Then-state Sen. Linda Garrou, a Democrat from Forsyth County, saw to it that that got fixed. In a hurry. Sexual activity with a student became a class G felony less than a year after the incidents at East Forsyth.
“Doug Shields is the reason we have laws about teachers and coaches having sex with students they have power over,” Glanton said.
Perhaps worse was the way the case was handled by school officials.
A 15-year-old girl, a student at East Forsyth, reported that in 1995 she’d been a victim of sexual misconduct. According to interview transcripts in the court file, the girl said she’d been fondled, that Shields had kissed her neck and that she had requested a transfer out of his class.
But she was ignored, and the incident was not reported to police. Three years later, in 1998, the videotapes surfaced that led to an arrest and conviction.
With the tapes in hand, school officials conducted their own interview independent of police. They told Shields that if he told them the truth, they could help him — and by extension, them — avoid bad press.
“This is not going to be a pleasant thing for the school system to get out,” a school system paralegal said in a transcript of the interview. “It would be good if it didn’t get out.”
No one in a position of authority, other than prosecutors, appeared to give the first damn about those girls or what they’d experienced.
Once that became public, you’d think that school officials would have learned from it. But you’d be wrong.
Similar incidents of slow or non-reporting of allegations about sexual misconduct — or worse —continued through 2010.
A teacher at Parkland High was allowed back into the classroom in 2006 despite a credible allegation of sexual battery on campus. School officials, led by a school attorney, conducted their own investigation without notifying police.
That teacher, Steven Waddell, was charged in 2010 with taking indecent liberties with a minor and sexual battery. He later entered an Alford plea, a convenient legal maneuver in which the accused does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict.
The girl’s parents also filed a lawsuit against the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools that was settled in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.
“It’s not (up to) the school administration or the school attorney or the school superintendent to determine whether a crime has been committed,” said then-Sheriff Bill Schatzman in October 2010. “We don’t teach school, and they don’t investigate crime.”
The message resonated then and now. So when news of Shields’ passing began to circulate, it became impossible to ignore the worst chapter of his life.
It’s hard not to think of those girls, adults now, and what they went through. At least one was hesitant to testify for fear that she would be ostracized.
Victims count, and their stories matter. And sometimes, the stories bear repeating.
Even at risk of speaking ill of the dead.