Fort Mill teacher charged with child porn; district vows to ‘safeguard’ students

Fort Mill school district leaders vowed to keep students safe after a Fort Mill High School teacher was arrested Thursday on child pornography charges.

Eric Hartley, 36, a first-year business teacher, was arrested by federal agents. He is accused of conspiracy to distribute child pornography, said Lia Bantavani, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charlotte.

Details about the child pornography accusations have not been released by federal law enforcement officials or prosecutors. The case remains sealed, officials said.

Fort Mill school district officials addressed the issue Friday. However some parents said told The Herald they were upset because they knew only what the media had reported.

On Friday around 11:30 a.m, District Superintendent Chuck Epps sent a statement to all Fort Mill High School parents. The statement said school officials knew nothing about the arrest until they were contacted by the media. Epps said the district will cooperate with federal agents if asked.

The statement said:

“The district learned of an employee’s arrest yesterday, Thursday, February 28. Soon after the District learned of the arrest, the employee resigned.

“At no time has the district been contacted by law enforcement about this arrest. The only information we have about the allegations is what has been reported in the media. If and when we are contacted by law enforcement, we will cooperate fully with any investigation.

“In times like these we understand and share the concerns and frustrations of the community. We will continue to safeguard our students in every way possible and offer any support needed.”

Joe Burke, spokesman for the school district, told The Herald that Hartley has no disciplinary record with the school district since starting as a teacher in the fall semester of 2018.

Burke said all employees must undergo a South Carolina and federal criminal background check before being hired.

Thursday after being contacted by The Herald, but before Hartley appeared in court, the district issued this statement:

“On Thursday, February 28, 2019, Fort Mill School District administrators and Fort Mill High School administrators learned of the arrest of an employee,” Burke told The Herald in a written statement Thursday. “The employee has resigned their position with the district. The district cannot comment on any investigations and has not been contacted by law enforcement at this time. Any questions regarding the investigation should be directed to law enforcement.”

Hartley appeared Thursday afternoon in federal court in Charlotte. Federal magistrate judge David Cayer ordered that Hartley be jailed, Bantavani said. A preliminary hearing is set for March 5.

Hartley remains in the Mecklenburg County jail in Charlotte without bond.

Hartley was arrested on a complaint from the eastern district of Virginia, said Bantavani of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The charge carries a mandatory minimum of five years in prison up to 20 years, Bantavani said.

A conviction on the charge also carries lifetime supervised release.

Hartley was an IBA business teacher at the school, according to a page on the Fort Mill High School’s webpage that was up until Thursday afternoon.

Jeff Helms, Fort Mill Police Department chief, said the case is being handled by federal law enforcement and his department is not involved. York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson confirmed his deputies also were not involved in the arrest.

The school is in South Carolina inside the town limits of Fort Mill, about 5 miles south of the North Carolina state line.

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the U.S. Library of Congress.