Morrison retracts letter supporting pastor convicted of physically abusing kids
State Rep. Tom Morrison on Thursday retracted his earlier letter of support for a Christian teacher and pastor convicted of aggravated assault for severely spanking children in Arizona.
The letter from Morrison, a Palatine Republican seeking re-election to the 54th House District seat, was among 16 provided to a judge ahead of Thomas Chantry's sentencing last week.
Chantry, 48, was found guilty in August by a Yavapai County, Arizona, jury of two counts of aggravated assault. He was sentenced Oct. 19 to three years of supervised probation and 100 hours of community service. He's also barred from interacting with children other than his own.
Prosecutors brought the charges against Chantry for events that took place more than 20 years ago while he was a church pastor in Prescott, Arizona. That was before Chantry began working at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights in 2002, where he and Morrison were fifth-grade teachers.
Morrison said Thursday he provided the three-sentence letter -- in which he identifies himself as an Illinois state representative -- to Chantry's defense attorney via email on Sept. 10. Morrison said people he knows from Christian Liberty encouraged him to send a letter on Chantry's behalf.
In it, Morrison called Chantry "professional, courteous, and caring to students, parents and fellow staff."
"In the time we worked together, in a variety of settings, he had his students' best interests at heart," Morrison wrote.
Morrison sought to walk back those statements Thursday, saying the letter was penned when he didn't know the full extent of charges against Chantry.
When Morrison wrote the letter, Chantry had been found guilty of two aggravated assault charges, while jurors found him not guilty of another count of aggravated assault and one count of child molestation and deadlocked on four other counts of child molestation.
On Sept. 11 -- the day after Morrison says he emailed his letter -- prosecutors in Arizona brought nine new charges against Chantry, stemming from allegations dating back to between 1998 and 2000. Morrison says he didn't learn of those charges -- four counts of aggravated assault, four counts of child molestation and one count of child abuse -- until Thursday morning, when Politico reported on his letter.
Morrison said he read a Sept. 25 Daily Herald article on Chantry, in which the newest charges were detailed, but did not recall those specific allegations.
"What I learned this morning is not reflective of the person that I once knew," Morrison wrote Thursday in an email to the Daily Herald. "These are the most serious allegations and at the time I was unaware of them -- and I wholeheartedly condemn them."
In a follow-up statement, Morrison said he "made a grave error" in not doing further research into the full scope of the situation.
Morrison added that his letter was based upon his experience working with Chantry for a brief time at Christian Liberty. Chantry worked there from 2002 to 2006, and Morrison was there from 1999 to 2005 -- the last time Morrison says he saw or spoke with Chantry.
The Daily Herald reported last month that Chantry was accused of severely spanking a 5-year-old student in Arlington Heights in 2004. While the child's parents filed a police report, they never sought charges.
The school's superintendent, Philip Bennett, previously said that complaint prompted him to end the school's long-standing practice of corporal punishment.
Morrison on Thursday declined to comment about the policy, including whether he witnessed Chantry or other teachers putting it into practice.
Morrison, a four-term incumbent, will face Democrat Maggie Trevor in the Nov. 6 election for the 54th District seat, which represents all or parts of Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights and other Northwest suburbs.