Bethel principal, accused of sending sexual texts to girl, goes before a judge

The Anchorage federal courthouse (KDLG photo)

The federal investigation of a Bethel elementary school principal continues after his initial court appearance Tuesday in Anchorage on charges that he tried to lure a minor into having sex and that he sent obscene material to a minor.

Agents with the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force arrested Christopher Carmichael, principal of Bethel’s Gladys Jung Elementary School, in Bethel on Dec. 11. The agents seized Carmichael’s school computers and told school officials that no children were in danger.

The charges against Carmichael say Bethel police began investigating him in June when a former student reported Carmichael had touched her inappropriately in the past. The charges say Carmichael was later caught having explicit online conversations with a minor, and, in November, with an undercover FBI agent pretending to be the first girl’s minor cousin.

The lead prosecutor on the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Rearden, said investigators “are following up on every possible lead and intend to investigate every possible lead that we have and that comes in.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Rearden at the Federal Courthouse in Anchorage in December 2019. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

On Tuesday, Jolene Goeden, the FBI agent who had posed as the underage girl, ushered Carmichael into the courtroom at the Anchorage federal courthouse.

Carmichael, with dark, graying hair, wore a typical orange jumpsuit from Anchorage Correctional Complex and spoke briefly with a lawyer from the Federal Public Defender Agency while filling out paperwork. A judge asked Carmichael if he understood the charges against him.

Carmichael said, “Yes, sir,” to each of the judge’s questions and later thanked him for his time.

After Magistrate Judge Matthew Scoble officially appointed the public defenders to represent Carmichael, he turned to the issue of detention, which does not include the possibility of bail in federal court.

“The charges are, obviously, very serious,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Rearden told the judge, arguing that Carmichael should be jailed to protect the public and to make sure he did not run.

The judge ordered Carmichael to remain behind bars.

Carmichael’s attorney, Burke Wonnell, declined to comment after the hearing, except to say that rumors about Carmichael having tried to commit suicide were false.

Rearden, the prosecutor, told reporters in an impromptu press conference that Carmichael had a health problem that contributed to delays getting him to court to hear the charges.

Rearden also addressed a question about why it took several months from when the initial report was made to Bethel Police in June, to when agents arrested Carmichael in December.

Rearden said securing warrants to monitor a person’s communications can take time and that law enforcement officers always want to build a strong case with solid evidence.

“I don’t know what it was that resulted in the case not being brought to our office until November,” Rearden said. “But I am confident that it was pursued as diligently as the Bethel Police Department were able to do it.”

Bethel Police Lieutenant Amy Davis, the department’s acting chief, said the initial report of sexual assault of a minor, a state crime, was under investigation at the local level. Davis said she was talking to the FBI about a different incident when the Carmichael case came up and the federal investigators offered to help.

“Well, it took time to investigate it and put a case together, and these things take a little bit of time,” Davis said.

Davis says the allegations of child sexual abuse remain under investigation.

Carmichael’s next court date is set for Friday.