Sunday, February 25, 2018
Public safety

Pinellas County teacher's aide arrested on child porn charge

ST. PETERSBURG — Thomas Chaney's bosses expected him to report to work as usual when school starts Monday in Pinellas County.

Instead, district officials were notified this week that the 61-year-old St. Petersburg man, who worked with disabled students at the Nina Harris School in Pinellas Park, is at the center of a child pornography investigation.

Authorities arrested Chaney, a teacher's aide, on Wednesday morning on a charge of promoting a sexual performance by a child, a second-degree felony. Detectives from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement say Chaney uploaded pictures of naked children to a social networking site.

"Obviously our whole staff is concerned that anything of this nature could be connected to our school," said Mary Sakoff, the principal at Nina Harris. "We do anything we can to protect our students. We always have and we will continue to put students first."

An arrest affidavit said one of the photos, posted to a Twitter account via a mobile device, was of a young naked boy who looked to be about 12 years old.

Investigators said that as of this point, they have not found any evidence Chaney had inappropriate pictures of his students.

"We do not believe they were local children," said Chuck McMullen, a special agent supervisor for FDLE's cyber and high tech crime squad. "We don't have anything right now that ties him to kids at the school."

Investigators served a warrant early Wednesday morning at Chaney's home, 6978 46th Ave. N, Lot 237. They seized several computers, which will be examined for child pornography.

"It's going to take us some time to get through all of it," McMullen said. "There may be additional charges."

The FDLE began investigating this summer after images of naked children showed up on a social networking account that they say they were able to link to Chaney. Chaney, who remained in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail on Wednesday night, has been placed on paid administrative leave, Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman Melanie Marquez said.

Chaney was first hired by the school district as a substitute teacher in 1989, she said.

In 2003, he was assigned as a substitute teacher at Nina Harris, which serves about 240 students with various disabilities. Chaney was hired as a teacher's aide for high school-level students there last fall. He made $10.33 an hour.

"He was assigned to a classroom for students who have severe to profound intellectual disabilities," Marquez said.

Marquez said state authorities recently contacted the district's police department for assistance with the case. Sakoff sent a phone message to Nina Harris parents after finding out about Chaney's arrest on Wednesday.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643

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