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Child porn suspect worked in Battle Creek-area schools for five years

Stephen Marlow Bridges was arraigned Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, on charges of child pornography possession. (WWMT/Contributed)

A man charged with possession of child pornography Wednesday worked as a substitute teacher in Battle Creek and the surrounding areas for five years, according to the staffing agency that hired him.

EduStaff confirmed Wednesday that Stephen Marlow Bridges had been cleared to work at a number of schools since 2013.

Bridges most recently worked at Prairieview Elementary School in the Lakeview Public School District, administrators there said. In a letter to parents, the school leaders said his last day was Oct. 31, 2018, and that "there is no evidence Lakeview students were harmed or otherwise involved in connection with this arrest."

Police alerted local schools to the charges against Bridges, but do not know the exact schools where he worked.

"There's always a concern," said Battle Creek Police Sgt. Jeff Case. "Yes, he was a substitute teacher but nothing leads us to the fact, at this moment anyway, that there was inappropriate contact with students."

The investigation is still ongoing, Case said.

Bridges, 56, was arraigned Wednesday, and is the 10th suspect arrested in connection to an ongoing multi-county investigation into a child porn ring in Southwest Michigan. He was arraigned in Calhoun County District Court, charged with possession of child sexually abusive material and using a computer to commit a crime. He is being held on a $10,000 bond.

Battle Creek Police arrested Bridges Monday, and until then, Case said, Bridges had no criminal history.

Investigators said police found child pornography on three computers seized from the suspect's Emmett Township home on G Drive North.

Police notified the schools where Bridges worked as a substitute teacher. Investigators also said there is no evidence to suggest students or local children are victims or involved in the charges against Bridges, however, the investigation is still ongoing.

Police executed a search warrant at Bridges' home Oct. 26, the same day a Battle Creek man was charged with sexually assaulting a young child. That man, Donald Johnston, 45, is accused of raping a boy under the age of 5. Police said the investigation into Johnston led them to Bridges.

“The only reason we actually obtained his name and later made an arrest was because of the Donald Johnston case, which led us to G Drive and the search warrant,” Case said.

Lakeview School District officials said they notified parents Tuesday that Bridges had worked as a substitute teacher at Prairieville Elementary School. District officials told Newschannel 3 that Bridges was hired as a substitute through the third-party agency, EduStaff, based in Grand Rapids.

According to the EduStaff Human Resources department, the agency runs background checks that are just as rigorous as the school district's. School officials also see those results before making a decision to hire a substitute.

In a written statement to Newschannel 3, the communications director for Lakeview Public Schools said:

"Lakeview’s substitute teachers are employees of EduStaff and undergo comprehensive Michigan State Police and FBI criminal history record checks in accordance with the Student Safety Initiative Act. School districts are alerted by the Michigan State Police should an individual – including a substitute staff – be convicted of a crime through the duration of their service in public education."

Below is the latest full statement from Lakeview Schools, released Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018:

On Tuesday, Lakeview School District informed parents that a substitute teacher who worked this year at Prairieview Elementary School was arrested for possessing child pornography at home. The individual’s last day working at Prairieview was October 31, 2018.
In the communication to parents, the district shared there is no evidence Lakeview students were harmed or otherwise involved in connection with this arrest. The district will stay in close communication with the Battle Creek Police Department through the investigation.
Lakeview’s substitute teachers are employees of EduStaff and undergo comprehensive Michigan State Police and FBI criminal history record checks in accordance with the Student Safety Initiative Act. School districts are alerted by the Michigan State Police should an individual – including a substitute staff – be convicted of a crime through the duration of their service in public education.
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