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Another family accuses Chandler tutor of 'inappropriate touching' after state board approves clearance card

People with criminal backgrounds who apply for a good-cause exception have to show the Board of Fingerprinting they've been rehabilitated and won't re-offend.
Credit: KPNX

CHANDLER, Ariz. — With the pandemic shutting down schools, Kim Kriesel says she was desperate to find a good tutor for her 11-year-old son, who has ADHD.

She found Brett Smith, who went by "BJ" with her family, and hired him for more than two months to tutor her son. Since May, she says he'd come to their Chandler home for hour-long sessions 2 to 3 times a week.

"He just really seemed to fit our need and because of the way he was advertising himself, I thought he was ideal," Kriesel says.

Smith touted his credentials, including a fingerprint clearance card, which is issued by DPS and allows people to work with children. But in this case, that wasn’t the whole story.

"I feel like in many ways I'd been duped," Kriesel explains.

Over the past two years, Smith tried to get a clearance card from DPS but each time, he was denied due to his criminal record.

Documents show he was arrested 10 different times over the past 2 decades in Illinois and Indiana.  At that time, he went by Brett Zagorac. All arrests were connected to allegations of inappropriately touching children while working as a private tutor or substitute teacher.

He was convicted in three of those cases for misdemeanor battery.

When Kim learned all of that she had to have a tough talk with her son and asked him if Smith ever touched him.

"And he showed me and it was on his back," she explains. "So I said 'Oh? Over the clothes right?' And he said no. It was under the clothing."

Smith's background was brought to light by a lawsuit filed by DPS at the end of June. Col. Heston Silbert is suing Arizona's Board of Fingerprinting.

After DPS denied Smith's application for a fingerprint card, Smith applied for a good-cause exception through Arizona's Board of Fingerprinting.  Applications for this exception are for people with a criminal history who will have to prove to the board they've been rehabilitated and won't re-offend.

Documents from that November 2019 hearing, provided in a lawsuit filed by Smith, show that Smith told the Board he went through therapy and claimed his touches were never sexually motivated.

The hearing documents say he testified that he set rules for himself, including rules to keep space from children he was tutoring and that a parent or older sibling would be in the room with him while he worked.

In January 2020, the Board granted Smith the exception and recommended him for a card.

"They have a duty to protect Arizona children and I don’t believe that they’re doing that," Kriesel says.

Last year’s data shows the Board received more than 3,771 applications for good-cause exceptions and the board ultimately approved 3,584 of those applications.

The director of the Board of Fingerprinting told 12 News in an email that if a person is approved and issued a card, their card does not show they were approved by an exception. A person does not have to disclose whether they had to apply for an exception.

In addition to the Board keeping track of applications, it also keeps data on which fields applicants are trying to work in and what kind of offenses they've been charged with.

Despite the Board's recommendation of approval for a card, DPS Col. Heston Silbert said he would refuse to issue one to Smith.

Smith is suing DPS for refusing to issue him a card.  In a statement, one of his attorneys said DPS is creating a "false narrative" and "destroying a man's life."

Now, Silbert is suing the Arizona Board of Fingerprinting in an effort to stall giving Smith a clearance card while asking the Board to reconsider its decision.

Kim can’t understand why Smith was approved, especially now that she’s reported him for touching her son.  She's the second mother who's spoken out to 12 News about Smith allegedly touching their children.

"I feel like I let him down," Kriesel says of her son.  "He even said to me, 'Mama, how can I know who to trust?'"

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Kim’s family's case, while Chandler Police say sex crimes detectives are working on at least 6 other cases connected to Brett Smith’s interactions with children.  At this time, Smith is not facing any charges.

At the advice of counsel, the Arizona Board of Fingerprinting says it has no comment.

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