Teacher sentenced; judge says school district knew about abuse spanning 30 years

Southern Utah

ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) – A former elementary school teacher with the Washington County School District was sentenced to at least 60 years in prison Tuesday after dozens of accusers came forward, claiming that he molested them as children. 

Curtis William Payne, 60, pleaded no contest to four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child in August, according to court documents.

5th District Court Judge Jeffrey C. Wilcox said during sentencing that he was “frankly appalled” at how the Washington County School District handled Payne’s behavior, revealing that more than 30 women aged 12 to 41 came forward with accusations. 

“WCSD revealed multiple incidents of documented concerns and complaints with regards the defendant’s behavior around female students,” Wilcox said, in footage acquired from St. George News. “I was dismayed when I read this.” 

Photos Courtesy of Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Accusers said Payne often groped them both under and over their clothing, sometimes during films shown in the classroom, probable cause statements show. 

The former teacher’s career spanned 32 years before WCSD said it placed Payne on administrative leave. 

On Tuesday, Wilcox revealed part of Payne’s personnel record the district released to the court as part of his criminal investigation. 

The judge read part of the former teacher’s disciplinary action from 1999, when administrators instructed Payne, in part, to leave the last row of lights on during classroom videos, avoid letting a student sit on your lap, avoid massaging the shoulder or neck of a student, and go into the hallway if he ever found himself alone with a student. 

“Look what they did,” Wilcox added. “Thirty years this went on, that a predator was allowed to continue to teach.” 

ABC4 News sat down with Steve Dunham, the director of communications for the Washington County School District. Dunham said that while administrators cannot speak to Payne’s personnel record, he said police and the Division of Child and Family Services investigated two separate incidents with Payne in 1999 and 2002 and never filed formal charges. 

“First and foremost, we are saddened and appalled at the trauma that these victims have had to go through from this horrible, horrible experience,” Dunham said. “It’s important to note that during Payne’s time of employment with WCSD the district investigated any concern or allegation that came to our attention and we took action based on the information we had at the time.” 

“None of those concerns that we were made aware of were as serious and egregious as is currently on the public record,” he added. “When the most recent allegation came to our attention, we cooperated fully with police and put Mr. Payne on administrative leave on February 1st of 2018 and he resigned the next day.” 

Wilcox also shared an incident in 2002 when the district allegedly received complaints that Payne had touched and rubbed against students at a swim party, but Dunham said he doesn’t believe that was a school event. 

“It was on a Saturday and off of school property,” Dunham added. “That is something that we shared with police and that’s one of the incidents that we believe the police were notified and investigated him.” 

The judge referenced similar disciplinary action the district allegedly took against Payne in 2007 and 2008. 

“In spite of being placed on probation with regard to his employment status, being given a final warning by the school district and then admitting to violating some or all of the above directives on more than one occasion, the defendant was not only allowed to continue to teach but continued to teach his obvious preferred victim age group,” Wilcox said. 

Payne was sentenced to serve four consecutive sentences of 15 years to life. 

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