By Aila Boyd
Paul Zachary Wakeman, a former teacher at James River High School, pleaded guilty to one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor last Tuesday in Botetourt County Circuit Court after sending inappropriate messages to students over social media.
He was originally charged with three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The plea sentenced Wakeman to 12 months in jail, all of which were suspended. Additionally, he was given a 12-month probation term and was ordered to surrender his teaching license for cancellation.
“One of the big reasons we did that was because the students really, really did not want to testify if they could avoid it,” Commonwealth’s Attorney for Botetourt John Alexander said. “That was an important consideration for us.”
The whole matter involving Wakeman was sparked when the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office was notified on December 6, 2018 that an 18-year-old male student had gone to the assistant principal of James River High School the day before and said that Wakeman had requested photos of him in his boxer shorts without a shirt on. At one point, Wakeman had even purchased the student a pair of boxer shorts and had asked the student to send of photo of himself modeling them for him.
The student explained that he had not previously reported Wakeman’s behavior because he simply tried to avoid contact with him the best that he could. The reason why he decided to speak out when he did was because Wakeman had started contacting his younger brother.
Alexander explained that the younger brother of the male student who came forward reported that Wakeman had in fact requested similar types of photos from him. At one point he was able to capture a screenshot of a Snapchat that Wakeman had sent him in which he requested photos of him flexing his muscles without his shirt on. Alexander added that when the student requested a donut in the Snapchat conversation, Wakeman said that he would provide the student with two donuts if he would send a picture of him flexing his muscles.
Wakeman was interviewed about the allegations against him by school officials on December 5 and 6 before the sheriff’s office was contacted.
Alexander noted that once the sheriff’s office got involved, it gained access to Wakeman’s electronics and media account. However, no evidence was found due to the fact that Wakeman had already deleted his Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. “He had a lot of lead time and a lot of things just weren’t there anymore,” Alexander said.
A significant number of students were interviewed as part of the sheriff’s office’s investigation, Alexander said. “Many of them, all male, said that they had a similar experience with Mr. Wakeman. He had been asking them to send these photos and always over Snapchat,” he said. He added that Snapchat images disappear after several seconds unless the receiver saves them.
“More than one of the students said that anytime they would contact Mr. Wakeman through messenger or text, he would always steer the conversation to Snapchat,” Alexander said.
Alexander added that none of the students interviewed alleged that Wakeman had “touched anyone or had attempted to touch anyone.”
“Ultimately, we ended up with three students,” Alexander said. He added that because the charges were all misdemeanors, anything that might have occurred 12-months prior could not have been charged.