Lake Oswego school bus driver accused in child pornography case
A Tigard resident who worked as a school bus driver in Lake Oswego was accused Monday of possessing thousands of images and hundreds of videos containing child pornography.
According to a criminal complaint filed April 27 in U.S. District Court, Michel Shanon Harmon is also suspected of creating videos of himself masturbating to photos of a young girl. He faces one count of transportation of child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography.
Harmon, 40, made his first court appearance Monday before Judge Youlee Yim You, who agreed to release him with several conditions. He is scheduled to be arraigned May 22 in Portland.
Harmon was arrested Saturday and released Tuesday, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said the conditions for Harmon's release included home detention at his sister's residence, electronic monitoring, no internet access and no contact with minors under 18, which precludes him from working as a school bus driver.
In an email to parents late Monday, the Lake Oswego School District confirmed that Harmon worked for Student Transportation of America (STA) and drove Bus 23, which serves Oak Creek Elementary School and Lake Oswego Junior High. Christine Moses, the district's executive director of communications, said there is no indication that Harmon had any inappropriate contact with any children in the course of his duties.
"We are very serious about honoring our responsibility to keep your children safe, and situations like this are shocking and appalling to us all," Moses wrote.
A spokesperson for STA released a statement Tuesday afternoon, reiterating that there is nothing to suggest that Harmon had any inappropriate contact with any school bus passengers and adding that the company follows all federal- and state-mandated screening protocols for its drivers.
"We are shocked and saddened by the alleged actions that have led to charges against an off-duty employee," said Doug Coupe, STA's director of communications and investor relations. "After we learned of these charges, the employee was immediately suspended without pay, and we continue to assist law enforcement in every possible way in its investigation."
STA says it first learned of the allegations against Harmon after he was arrested and failed to show up for work on Monday, and that the company (and the school district, according to Moses) had no prior knowledge of a criminal investigation.
Harmon, who has worked for STA since August 2017, drove some sports trips in addition to his regular Bus 23 route, the company said; a complete list of his assignments is being compiled. Harmon will remain suspended indefinitely while the legal process plays out, Coupe said, and will be immediately terminated in the event of a conviction or plea agreement involving any of the charges.
Representatives of the bus company are expected to be in attendance Thursday night when the district hosts a Community Safety Meeting to address Harmon's arrest. The event, scheduled from 7-8 p.m. at Lake Oswego Junior High (2500 Country Club Road), will also look at sexual predator assessment, resources for discussing sexual health and tips for parents who want to talk about the issue with their children.
According to an affidavit written by Tigard police detective and FBI Child Exploitation Task Force Officer Yonsoo Lee, the FBI's Portland Division opened an investigation on June 2, 2017, after receiving a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's cyber tip line. Electronic service providers are required to register with the NCMEC and notify the tip line if they believe a user has uploaded child pornography content.
According to the affidavit, one such provider, a video hosting platform called Sendvid, reported to NCMEC that a user had uploaded four video files to its website that it suspected contained explicit material.
The affidavit says an FBI agent reviewed the files in question, each of which depicted an adult male masturbating to pornographic images of a young girl on a cellphone. The FBI subpoenaed the internet service provider Frontier Communications for the IP address of the subscriber who uploaded the videos, and obtained Harmon's name and an address in Tigard.
Lee and another Tigard police detective made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Harmon, according to the affidavit. They eventually reached an apartment manager who told them that Harmon was in the process of moving to a new residence in Aloha.
Harmon later made contact with the detectives, the affidavit says, and they interviewed him at his apartment on March 30, 2018, where he admitted to recording the videos. He granted them permission to search the computers in his residence, and told the detectives that they would find child pornography on them.
On April 9, while the search was still in progress, an attorney for Harmon contacted the Portland FBI office and declared that Harmon had revoked consent to search his computers, the affidavit says. Investigators successfully applied for a warrant to resume the search on April 16, and found 3,868 images and 323 videos that they believed contained child pornography, some of which were extremely violent.
Lee notes in the affidavit that he had not finished searching all of Harmon's computers at the time the affidavit was written, and that there may have been additional pornographic files that had not yet been discovered. The affadavit does indicate, however, that Harmon appears to have obtained all of the pornographic material from online sources.