A “reading interventionist” with a Midlands, South Carolina school district is staring down multiple child sex charges, according to documents posted online earlier this week.
According to documents filed on Wednesday on the Richland county, South Carolina public index, 64-year-old John Meredith Jennings of Columbia, S.C. has been charged with one count of first degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor under 11 years of age and one count of third degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor under 16 years of age.
According to Jennifer Timmons, public information officer for the city of Columbia police department, Jennings allegedly “sexually assaulted a minor female who was between the ages of six and nine years old” between 2014 and 2017.
“He is further accused of inappropriately touching another female who was between the ages of 10 and 13 years old,” Timmons said.
Timmons said these allegations were first reported to city police in March of this year. Since then, the city’s special victims unit has been investigating the reports.
Both offenses Jennings has has been charged with are violations of the S.C. Code of Laws (§ 16-3-655). If found guilty of the first charge, Jennings – who is employed by Richland county school district two as a “reading recovery” specialist – could face life in prison.
According to the S.C. code of laws, the first degree criminal sexual conduct charge carries a “mandatory minimum of twenty-five years, no part of which may be suspended nor probation granted.” In certain cases, a convicted defendant “must be imprisoned for life.”
Also, repeat offenders – i.e. defendants who were previously convicted of a first degree criminal sexual conduct charge – are eligible for the death penalty (something I have advocated for in the past).
On the third degree charge, Jennings faces up to fifteen years in prison and a fine at the discretion of the court.
As with anyone accused of committing any crime, Jennings is considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system, or until such time as he may wish to enter some form of allocution in connection with a plea agreement with prosecutors related to any of the charges that have been filed against him.
As of Thursday afternoon, Jennings remained incarcerated at the Alvin S. Glenn detention center in Richland county – where he was booked at 12:00 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.
My news outlet reached out to Richland county school district two to get its perspective on Jennings’ arrest. On Thursday afternoon, Libby Roof – the district’s chief communications officer – issued a statement in connection with the charges.
According to Roof, Jennings – who works at Longleaf middle school near Blythewood, S.C. – has been “placed on administrative leave following board policy.”
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“District and school administrators are very concerned about these charges but at this time we have no information that indicates that the alleged incidents are connected with the school,” Roof said.
According to Roof, Longleaf’s principal – Teresa Boyd – wrote a letter (.pdf) to school employees and parents ensuring them the district was taking the matter “very seriously.”
“As you can imagine, we are very concerned about these charges,” Boyd wrote.
“Parents who have any concerns about interactions between (Jennings) and their students have been asked to contact the principal,” Roof noted in her response from the school district. “In Richland Two nothing is more important than the safety and welfare of our students. District administrators want to assure the entire Richland Two family that we do all we can to make sure our schools remain safe for teaching and learning.”
This is a developing story … check back for updates …
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Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass player and a dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including the above-pictured Carolina Mudcats’ lid).
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