Cindy Yale, returning from lunch in September to her job as school secretary at Glendale Elementary School in Glen Burnie, spotted a man lingering at the flagpole outside.
Recognition came quickly. He was a former Glendale student whose face Yale had seen on a list of registered sex offenders that Principal Richard Chilipko passed out around the office.
Yale stayed in her car, took out her cellular phone and telephoned the principal. Her actions led not only to the arrest of 21-year-old Joshua Ryan Keller, but also to an effort to tighten laws governing sex offenders' access to schools.
Several weeks after the Sept. 15 arrest, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee announced that charges had been dismissed. Police had charged Keller with trespass, but the law states that to be found in violation, a person must be on a property after having officially been told to leave. Consequently, Keller hadn't broken any law. Registered sex offenders aren't categorically banned from school property.
Citing frustration with the case, Weathersbee last month instructed his prosecutors to ask judges to ban from school property anyone ordered to register as a sex offender. He also wants legislators to add language to state law that would bar sex offenders from school properties without written authorization from the principal. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) plans to announce a statewide initiative to tighten sex offender restrictions during an upcoming visit to the Glen Burnie school.
Keller, who lived within walking distance of the school, was a registered sex offender as a result of consensual sexual contact with two 13-year-old girls in 2003 and 2004, according to Kristin Riggin, spokeswoman for the county state's attorney, and Eugene Whissel, Keller's attorney.
Chilipko, the Glendale principal, said he had walked up to Keller outside the school and asked, "Are you waiting for a student?"
Keller gave him the name of a 7-year-old girl, according to Chilipko, and said that he had been sent by her mother to pick her up. The principal's staff reached the girl's stepfather and grandfather, who said no one outside the family had been delegated to pick her up that day. Several minutes later, the stepfather and grandfather appeared at the school. Keller, as it turned out, was known to the girl's parents: He had struck up conversations with the girl and her mother, the family told Chilipko.
Keller maintained that he'd never intended to pick up any student at Glendale Elementary and that the incident was a mistake by overzealous school officials. He has since moved out of the neighborhood.
"What he did was walk across the school property, which is not a crime," his attorney said. "He did mention a name. But that's when he was asked if he knew someone who went to school there."
The attorney says he is astonished that "no one seems to care" that his client spent 60 days in jail for conduct that was not criminal.
The school secretary who reported Keller said she feels justified.
"It just goes against common sense that these people should be allowed on school property," said Yale, who went to work at Glendale Elementary 13 years ago after raising her own children.