A teacher’s arrest was delayed for months. Then the victim saw him at school

Aug 27, 2018
Palm Beach County Jail
Former SouthTech Prep science teacher Scott Erich Landstrom

After reporting her son’s science teacher to the police in April, Natalee Clarke figured her son would never cross paths with him again.

After all, Boynton Beach police had launched an investigation into whether the teacher had kicked over her son’s stool during class, causing him to fall.

The teacher, Scott Erich Landstrom, 48, had confessed, police say. The school, SouthTech Preparatory Academy, had suspended him.

And a detective told Clarke that an arrest was forthcoming.

But when Clarke’s son began classes this month at a new high school – three months later – only one full day had passed before her son sent her an alarmed text message:

“He’s here!” 

To Clarke’s dismay, Landstrom not only was still working as a teacher, he had emerged at her son’s new high school, G-Star School of the Arts, a charter school in Palm Springs.

How, Clarke wondered, had a teacher being investigated on possible child abuse charges been allowed not only to keep teaching, but to do so at her son’s new school?

RELATED: SouthTech Prep teacher kicked student’s stool, making him fall, police say

After frustrated calls to G-Star, Boynton Beach police and the State Attorney’s Office, Clarke said she learned that police had applied for an arrest warrant but prosecutors had failed for three months to act on it, meaning Landstrom had yet to be arrested or charged.

With the case still technically open, no record of the incident would have appeared in a criminal background check. And G-Star admitted it had not checked with Landstrom’s previous schools to confirm the reason for his departure.

If they had, they would have learned that Landstrom resigned from SouthTech, a charter middle school in Boynton Beach, after police say he kicked the stool out from under Clarke’s son.

In an interview with police, the veteran teacher had admitted that he had become angry when Clarke's son interrupted him while he was disciplining students in his science class, an arrest report shows.

Landstrom said he kicked a bar-stool chair that the student was sitting on, causing him to fall, police say. He said he only meant to “tap” the stool and did not intend for the student to be hurt, according to an arrest report.

Clarke’s son fell on the tile floor but was not seriously injured, police said.

It wasn’t the first time Landstrom had been in trouble as a teacher. 

Two years before that, he had been fired by the school district in 2016 from his job as a physics teacher at Suncoast High School, where parents had complained that he made inappropriate comments in class.

“We asked him why he left Suncoast and why he left SouthTech and he never told us the truth,” said Greg Hauptner, G-Star's school’s founder. “We didn’t see anything, but we were still in the process of simultaneously doing that and training him.”

After Clarke called G-Star, school administrators moved to confirm he was under criminal investigation and quickly fired him, Hauptner said. He said Landstrom didn’t teach any classes in the opening days of the school year.

Clarke said she received an apologetic call from a prosecutor at the State Attorney’s Office. Landstrom was arrested a few days later.

A detective originally concluded that he had probable cause to arrest Landstrom on a felony child-abuse charge, records show. But court records indicate he was instead arrested on a lesser charge of culpable negligence, a second-degree misdemeanor.

“The very same day was when they issued the arrest warrant,” she said. “They hadn’t issued the warrant, it was just pending. It was just sitting there.”

A spokeswoman for Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg declined to comment on the case. Landstrom did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Clarke said she appreciated that the school acted quickly once her son encountered his old teacher on campus. 

But she said she didn’t understand why prosecutors hadn’t moved on it before.

“Had I not said anything about it, this would have just fallen by the wayside,” she said. “If he can’t control his anger he shouldn’t be teaching kids.”