When Christopher Durham reportedly told students at the sixth-twelfth grade Grand Prairie Collegiate Institute to Google him because he’s “famous,” they probably expected that he had been in a movie or a TV show. Or at the very least, they probably weren’t anticipating that his claim to fame is that he was arrested in Oklahoma after making threats to a judge and two attorneys during his divorce case.
Back in 2013, the Oklahoman reported that Durham had threatened Judge Lynne McGuire, who presided over his case; Tom Daniel, the attorney who represented his ex-wife; and Ken Klingenberg, the attorney appointed to assist with the sale of the home he and his ex-wife owned.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Durham was distraught after learning his court case was “a lost cause.” He told his attorney that McGuire, Daniel and Klingenberg “do not realize what he is capable of and need to be careful,” a deputy sheriff reported.
Durham’s attorney at the time told investigators Durham said he was “capable of doing all kinds of things and is capable of doing things along the line of what just happened in Newton [sic], Conn.,” according to the affidavit.
Outside of court, Durham denied making any references to the school shootings.
“The charges are completely false, and I am confident I will be exonerated,” he said as he was led away in handcuffs and jail clothes.
Durham awaits trial in November. Although we don’t know what he said to his attorney about the Sandy Hook shooting, it certainly doesn’t help his case that he reportedly told the children he was responsible for teaching in Texas about how to find out about the allegations.
Per KXAS-TV, Durham has been “excused from all employment responsibilities” pending an investigation. He declared his innocence once more, but he declined further comment to the station, which leaves the obvious question is unanswered: Guilty or innocent of making the threat in 2013, why did he bring it up?
(In a conversation with Texas Monthly, Durham disputed the reported account from the parents and from KXAS-TV.)
The Dallas Morning News asked how Durham was hired, and was told by Grand Prairie ISD spokesman Sam Buchmeyer that, while the school conducted a background check investigation, the fact that Durham hadn’t been convicted probably kept him from turning up in the federal database. Buchmeyer explained that at the time Durham was hired it wasn’t their policy to Google every prospective employee before extending a job offer, though that was something they’d consider going forward.
After he was asked whether the district conducted a Google search before Durham was hired, Buchmeyer said in a statement:
“While we have never used name-based research through an internet search engine, in light of this situation, we are considering additional tools to screen candidates for employment.”
Durham’s situation is unusual for a criminal justice case. As a society, we don’t want people who have been accused of something they were never convicted of to be excluded from employment opportunities. In that way, the district’s policy of not barring everyone who’s ever been accused of a crime from working as a teacher is probably a good one. At the same time, though, Durham’s reported statement to his students suggests that this particular accused criminal is probably one parents should feel concerned about.
Durham may not have made the threat that he was “capable of doing all kinds of things and is capable of doing things along the line of what just happened in Newton [sic], Conn.” A jury will determine that in November, unless this latest update changes the status of his case. But there’s ultimately a slim difference between a person who declares to an attorney that he’s capable of such things and a person who tells people—specifically children at a school—that you were once arrested for making such a threat. Ultimately, it tells us more about Durham than it does about the best practices for hiring people who’ve been accused of crimes before.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated throughout to reflect that Mr. Durham was placed on administrative leave, not under suspension; that he disputes the accounts reported by the parents and the media; and to clarify the language of the alleged threats he was accused of making in Oklahoma.