Mental health worker charged with sex abuse has troubled history

Mental health worker charged with sex abuse has troubled history
Holes in background checks let Gatton continue to reach kids
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The mental health worker accused of sexually assaulting a young boy has a long, troubled history with children.

Monday morning 33-year-old Matthew Gatton turned himself into Westerville Police.

Gatton is charged with two counts of gross sexual imposition against an 11-year-old boy in his care.

Gatton was employed by OhioGuidestone as a mental health worker.

"It seemed like Matthew was a godsend, to be honest," said the mother of that boy.

We're not identifying them, to protect his anonymity.

"He helped him a lot with anger management, how to deal with regular day to day stuff."

But this week Westerville Police said Gatton admitted to touching their son's penis between 20 to 50 times.

"It's just such a shock and betrayal," said the boy's father. "It's a sucker punch and we're still reeling from it."

Public records reveal a long, disturbing trail of red flags in Gatton's history with children.

Vineyard Columbus church says approximately five years ago, Gatton was a volunteer with their kids' ministry.

According to a 2016 Columbus Police report, Gatton's sister in law, an associate at the church, said Gatton "was asked to leave after complaints by parents that he was behaving inappropriately."

Vineyard says it flagged Gatton in its internal system as unsuitable to work with children, but did not notify police.

Over years, Gatton has worked with kids at the YWCA Columbus, Kiddie Academy of Reynoldsburg, The Columbus Academy summer program.

In 2016, a family member reported him to Columbus Police for allegedly molesting a 7-year-old relative.

Prosecutors said there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute.

But by this time, Gatton had been working for more than a year as a teaching assistant at Ventures Academy in Delaware County, a program of the Educational Service Center.

His personnel file, a public record, contains repeated warnings and write-ups for "inappropriate behavior with students," including "allowing a student to sit in (his) lap, allowing a student to put his head in (his) lap" and discussions about private body parts.

In February 2016, Gatton was removed from the classroom and resigned under threat of termination.

That same month, the Educational Service Center reported his misconduct to the Ohio Department of Education.

But it was nearly two years- January of 2018- before the state completed its investigation.

And as of Thursday, his substitute teaching license is still valid.

Boy's Mother: "That's two years too long. It shouldn't take that long to investigate something like that. And they should flag him somewhere. Somewhere he should have been flagged that this was going on."
Glenn McEntyre: "Because in the meantime, he went to work for OhioGuidestone and came into your home."
Boy's Mother: "With my child. Yes. With my child."

OhioGuidestone hired Gatton in August 2016.

In a statement to 10TV, OhioGuidestone said, "We do everything in our power to ensure that every person who comes into contact with the people we serve is safe, trustworthy and beyond reproach...Every employee is thoroughly vetted and screened through extensive background checks."

But Gatton's troubled history at the Education Service Center, and the Police Report filed by his family in 2016 were all public record.

"It makes me mad. It makes me really, really mad," said the boy's mother. "Here they are sending a guy into our home saying he's perfectly safe and we believed them, when all this is on public record. They could have known it."

"What the hell?" asked the boy's father. "I don't understand. Someone didn't do their job. And I'm furious about it."

"If you're allowing people like this to walk and go on working with kids, you're not doing your job," said the boy's mother. "If you're supposed to be someone that works with kids, and you're supposed to take care of kids, you're not doing it. You're hurting kids. And you're just as accountable."

Since Wednesday, 10TV has tried to get comment from the Ohio Department of Education about the status of any discipline against Gatton, and why it took two years to complete their investigation. They sent us the following statement Thursday evening:

All individuals are entitled to due process rights, and when an educator license is involved, a person’s livelihood is at stake. As due process in any case is completed, the Department database is updated accordingly.

Vineyard Columbus church says it is required by law to report any suspected child abuse or neglect, but "we received no accusations or evidence of abuse relating to Gatton."

We repeatedly asked them what concerns were serious enough to prompt his termination, but not serious enough to report to police, but they wouldn't answer.

We also wanted to talk with OhioGuidestone about how they screen their employees- and how they missed the public records we were able to find on Matthew Gatton.

They did not respond to our request.

The YWCA and Columbus Academy say they received no such complaints or concerns about Gatton during his tenures there.

We also reached out to police and prosecutors to see what they'd like to see employers do in situations where someone is inappropriate, but not necessarily criminal, while working with children.

They said, when in doubt, don't substitute your judgment for law enforcement.

They say behavior like this can and should be reported to police and children services.

As one officer told me, "If they felt the need to fire him, why not call police and make a report. If nothing else, a report will be taken to document the incident. If he shouldn't be around your kids, why is it okay for him to be around others?"

OhioGuidestone sent 10TV an additional statement on Friday saying:

We are greatly concerned about accusations that have been brought against a former employee. We take any concerns raised seriously and take decisive action as warranted.

Prior to employment, every candidate is thoroughly vetted and screened through extensive background checks in accordance with Ohio law. We complete both a Federal Bureau of Investigation and an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation background check through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for all employees. If there is a finding on the background check, we do not hire them.

If anything would have appeared on the FBI or BCI reports from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, we never would have hired him.

Our goal is to be as transparent as possible and provide as much information as we can. However, due to the ongoing criminal investigation, we are not able to discuss particulars of the situation. We continue to work closely with Westerville police and are offering them our full cooperation and assistance.

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