TAMPA — A 22-year-old security officer at Booker T. Washington Elementary School has been arrested and charged with sexual battery for blindfolding and sexually assaulting a 6-year-old student, authorities said.
Malcolm Curtis Tillman of Tampa was arrested Wednesday after investigators received forensic evidence that supported an allegation from the girl, according to Tampa police. He was hired July 1, a school district spokeswoman said, as the district boosted its security staff under a new state mandate to station a guardian at every elementary school.
The girl told investigators Tillman took her out of class to a "game room" at the school on Jan. 10 and told her to sit on a chair with her hands behind her back, according an arrest report and a search warrant affidavit filed in the case.
"He told (her) he was going to take care of (her) and it was going to be okay," the affidavit says.
He then covered the girl's eyes and nose with a black jacket, "told (her) not to be scared," and sexually battered her, the documents say.
When the girl removed the jacket from her eyes, she saw Tillman's pants were unbuttoned, the records say. Tillman told the girl "they were all good," the affidavit says.
The girl reported the incident the same day and district officials contacted Tampa police. The girl was able to show investigators the room and pointed to a black fleece jacket that was still there on the back of a couch, the affidavit says.
Tillman denied the allegation but admitted he was alone with the girl in the room, the arrest report says. He told investigators he believed the girl was a victim of child neglect "and wanted to determine how safe she was at home," according to the report.
Tillman's semen was found on two sections of the fleece jacket, the report says.
"It wasn't until physical evidence came back that supported her account and undermined his that we were able to make an arrest," Hegarty said.
Tillman was removed from the school the day the girl reported the incident and fired as soon district officials were notified of his arrest, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. Principal Jaime Gerding notified parents about the investigation as soon as it began through the Parentlink network, then sent another message to parents on Thursday morning, Arja said.
"I am disgusted and shocked by this arrest," Gerding said in the message to parents. "We trusted him to protect our students and staff and he broke that trust.
“As soon as we learned of the allegation, he was removed from our school while police investigated. He has now been let go by the district. The family of the student was involved in the investigation from the beginning.”
The principal’s message said police do not believe there are any other victims.
Tillman is charged with sexually battering a child younger than 12, a felony punishable by up to life in prison. He was being held without bail Thursday in the Hillsborough County jail.
Tillman's arrest marks the second criminal case involving a Hillsborough school guardian in recent weeks.
Last month, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Terry Strawn used his service weapon to kill his wife, daughter and granddaughter, and then himself. His granddaughter attended Valrico Elementary, where Strawn was assigned. None of the shootings happened on a school campus.
After completing training, Tillman started in September at Village of Excellence Academy, a Tampa charter school, and then moved to Washington Elementary on Oct. 31, Arja said. He was still in his probationary period at the time of the arrest.
Tillman passed a criminal background check, a psychological evaluation and went through extensive training, Arja said. He also had previous experience in armed security and a previous employer gave him a positive recommendation. He did not have any disciplinary issues in the time he was employed with the district.
According to his application, Tillman worked as a bank protection officer for the private security firm G4S from February to July 2018. Before that, he worked as security officer in Miami for U.S. Security Associates, another private company.
Tillman was among some 120 community school officers the district has either hired or rehired since the summer months at an annual salary of $27,000 each. These recruits do not include law enforcement officers who have joined the effort to provide armed security at every district-run and charter school.
"The district took the time to thoroughly screen applicants for our officer positions," Arja said. "In fact, we partnered with law enforcement agencies to guarantee we would have coverage at our schools while a thorough screening process took place."
Washington Elementary is in District 5, the area represented by School Board Chairwoman Tamara Shamburger.
"It's our top priority to ensure that all students are safe, especially with the adults we trust with their care, whether those positions are state-mandated or not," Shamburger said in a statement. "I expect every employee of the district, whether in direct contact with students or not, to exhibit the highest level of integrity. Anything less won't be tolerated."
Times staff writer Marlene Sokol and senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.