BLAINE, Minn. - A loophole in Minnesota law allows some admitted sex offenders to drive school buses.
Records obtained by KARE 11 reveal that a school bus driver who was charged with criminal sexual conduct involving children last week had admitted to police years earlier that he had molested another child.
Even so, Minnesota law did not prevent him from obtaining a license to drive school children.
Glenn David Johnson, 52, was arrested and charged last week with molesting two teenage girls in his home.
Records show it’s not the first time he’s been busted for a sex crime involving an underage girl.
“No question that there seems to be a concerning pattern of conduct going back now about 20 years,” said Paul Young. He heads the criminal division of the Anoka County Attorney’s office and prosecuted Johnson two decades ago.
Stay of adjudication in 1998
When he was 32, the Blaine man was charged with molesting a 14-year-old girl. A police report says he admitted rubbing the girl’s vaginal area.
In a recorded interview, Johnson was questioned by an Anoka County Sheriff’s investigator.
“Okay where did you touch her on her body, do you remember?” asked Investigator Jodi Wallin.
“Yeah in between her legs,” Johnson replied, according to a transcript of the interview obtained by KARE 11.
Johnson entered a guilty plea in 1998, but received a so-called Stay of Adjudication. That’s a type of plea bargain that allows a defendant to plead guilty, but avoid a formal conviction.
A judge placed Johnson on probation, but agreed to dismiss the charges if he successfully completed it. So, despite his guilty plea the charges against Johnson were dismissed in 2000.
In a series of reports over the past six months, KARE 11 has revealed how the legal loophole is allowing hundreds of child sexual predators in Minnesota to slip under the radar, leaving parents in the dark about the danger they may pose.
Parents upset molester allowed to drive school buses
Since there was no conviction on his official record, the State of Minnesota granted Johnson a license that allowed him to drive school children.
Until last week, Johnson was a bus driver in the Anoka-Hennepin District transporting kids to and from Blaine High School, Roosevelt Middle School and Jefferson Elementary.
Authorities say the latest sexual assault charges against Johnson did not involve his job as a bus driver.
But parents expressed surprise when they learned an admitted molester had been driving children.
“You’re trusting the school, the bus company, whoever is hiring them,” said Lois Perkins-Huff.
“That makes me very nervous,” said Brittney Whalen.
In a written statement to KARE 11, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said the current law governing school bus drivers only disqualifies people “based on convictions, not stays of adjudication.”
Both the school district and the bus company told KARE 11 they were unaware of Johnson’s history.
That’s not surprising. Cases involving stays of adjudication do not appear on Minnesota’s public online court system database.
Even if a school district or bus company asks the BCA for an official background check, a stay of adjudication would not be disclosed.
“The statute authorizes the release of conviction data, but does not authorize the release of stays of adjudication,” the Department of Public Safety statement said.
”If they admitted they’re guilty there should be a law that they can’t be anywhere near a child,” Perkins-Huff said.
Legislature considering changes
Minnesota lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would ban stays of adjudication. Prosecutors and victim advocates warn a total ban would go too far. They argue that plea bargains resulting in probation in some difficult-to-prove cases are better than no sentence at all.
However, many lawmakers seem to agree that there needs to be more transparency.
After seeing KARE 11’s initial report about secret sex offenders, Gov. Mark Dayton also called for more public disclosure.
“I was shocked to see the report and I’m working with legislators who share that concern,” Dayton said in February.
The Anoka County prosecutor who agreed to the plea bargain with Glenn Johnson in 1998 defended his decision.
“We didn’t reach the perfect result, but the risk of an acquittal or the need to have an outright dismissal was very real,” Paul Young said.
However, he agreed that’s no reason to hide Johnson’s guilty plea and other stays of adjudication from public view.
“What I hope would change is that when you get a stay of adjudication there would still be some record,” he said.