A fifth grade teacher is "factually innocent" of inappropriately touching a student, a Superior Court judge has ruled, but the teacher remains unable to return to work in any public classroom.
In March 2012, the San Bernardino County District Attorney decided not to prosecute Roger Talley citing reasonable doubt and a lack of corroboration on the part of his accuser.
Now Talley is hoping to reclaim his career – and his life.
"I want people to know," he said. "I didn't do it."
Serious damage has already been done to his career and reputation. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialling revoked his credentials, disqualifying him from working at any public school.
"If I go on the Internet and Google my name, I'm appalled," said Talley.
Many websites failed to update stories about the initial accusations. On Monday, an image of Talley remained on the website Mugshot.com, labeled, "molester."
Talley, 55, had been accused of inappropriately touching a sixth-grade student at Walnut Elementary School in Chino shortly after sexual allegations against two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School created a firestorm of suspicion.
"Everybody was like on this witch hunt," Talley said. "Things that were benign – hugging, being affectionate – turned out to be totally inappropriate."
Even after the DA found insufficient evidence to prosecute Talley, he agreed to leave the Chino Unified School District.
Talley decided not to wage a legal fight to keep his job, he said, after getting an estimate that attorneys' fees would exceed $100,000, and coverage provided by his union would cover only $20,000.
But he could afford to hire an attorney to petition the Superior Court for a rare ruling that he was factually innocent, basically expunging any legal record that connected him the alleged crime.
"The remedy is to have the arrest and court records removed, and put them back at square one," said Marc Grossman, Talley’s attorney.
They achieved the ruling, and California's Commission on Teacher Credentialing has agreed to schedule a hearing to reconsider his status. No date has been set.
Talley said that in retrospect, the hugs with students at school perhaps left him vulnerable to accusations.
He also acknowledged there had been complaints about the hugging, and about another incident in which he said he lightly poked several students in their stomachs to get their attention. Those incidents were resolved early in 2012, Talley said. Later, the 6th grader came forward with the inappropriate touching allegation.
At the time, Chino Unified Spokesperson Julie Gobin said: "I think people are more comfortable coming forward knowing that school districts are taking this more seriously."
In 2011, a teacher at the District's Chino High School, John Hirsch, pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a student. In June, a civil court judgment found the district liable for in excess of $3 million dollars in damages.
Talley said he thinks the district "went overboard" in his case, but emphasized he believes district officials must be vigilant in protecting students.
"It's pretty hard for them," he said.
More Southern California Stories: