Arizona Charter Academy teacher Victor Scott McPeak Jr. was targeted in a local child-pornography investigation last fall, and that fact was known by at least one other Arizona Charter Academy teacher: his mother.
Elizabeth McPeak, a kindergarten teacher at Surprise’s Arizona Charter Academy, disclosed her knowledge at her son’s March 21 federal detention hearing, apparently catching school officials off guard.
The younger McPeak, 36, was arrested by federal agents last week and accused of receiving and distributing child pornography online. His arrest was part of a probe of an international child-pornography ring that prosecutors say spanned 20-plus countries.
The Surprise Police Department is now conducting an inquiry of its own.
At last week’s hearing, federal prosecutors said the FBI learned that the Sheriff’s Office earlier had gone to McPeak Jr.’s home in Surprise and confiscated two laptop computers, suspecting he had used his credit card to set up a child-pornography Web site.
McPeak’s mother, a teacher at the school for 4½ years, told the court she and her husband, Victor Scott McPeak Sr., a former minister, were aware in November of the Sheriff’s probe.
The FBI alleges McPeak Jr. bought another laptop and continued his activities.
At the time of McPeak’s March 17 arrest, officials alleged that he possessed thousands of sexually explicit images and videos of girls as young as 8 on that laptop computer.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan released McPeak to his parents on condition that his two children, aged 9 and 12, not live in the same home.
“I need you to be a lot more vigilant,” Duncan told McPeak’s parents.
The McPeaks declined to comment after the hearing.
Surprise police consider McPeak Jr. a “person of interest,” and the department is communicating with the FBI about the matter, Sgt. Randy Rody, a Surprise police spokesman, said Wednesday.
Surprise police started their own inquiry as a “prudent measure, given the existing allegations” about McPeak, who taught at Arizona Charter Academy for 5½ years, Rody said. Police have reportedly made contact with Principal Heather Henderson about the matter.
“Given his position at the school, the position he had . . . how close he was with kids . . . just to assume nothing happened would be irresponsible,” he said.
On Tuesday, school administrator Melissa Holdaway said McPeak, who also taught an after-school juggling class, has been terminated as an employee. She said she and other staff members were unaware of a Sheriff’s Office investigation in November, and she declined further comment “until I have all the facts.”
The school left it to parents to discuss the matter with their students, giving out the Police Department’s number as a precaution.
“Always, our first priority is the safety of our students,” Holdaway said, noting that the school conducted a background check on the McPeak Jr. and found a clean record.
Capt. Paul Chagolla, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of its own investigation of McPeak.
Surprise investigators are determining whether schoolchildren had physical contact with McPeak while he taught, Rody said. No victims have yet been identified, he said, and police have not been on school grounds to interview staff or children. However, they are not ruling out a trip to the charter school’s campus.
“We’re dependent on where the investigation takes us,” Rody said. “I’m confident that, at some point, we’ll be out there to talk to teachers or anybody like that. It just depends on where the investigation goes.”
McPeak Jr. will live with his parents in Surprise under home incarceration, with electronic-bracelet monitoring, by order of U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan.
He can only leave the residence for court appearances, religious services and doctor’s appointments, Duncan said. He also stipulated no computers or Internet access at the home, and McPeak cannot have contact with children under 18.
FBI agents who searched McPeak Jr.’s home in the 11900 block of North 152nd Drive in Surprise reportedly finding on his laptop computer numerous images of minors engaged in sexually explicitly conduct, according to U.S. District Court documents.
Court records also say that “he has had a sexual interest in minors for approximately five years” and that he has been trying to hide his sexual interest from his 12-year-old daughter.
Rody advised parents – not just those with children at the charter school – to keep an open dialogue on what is considered “good touching” and “bad touching.”
“When these incidents happen, it brings forth (a concern) on everyone’s minds,” Rody said. “But this should be something (parents) should talk to their kids about all the time, so kids are . . . comfortable conveying things to a responsible adult in their lives.”