By Shavonne Potts
WINSTON-SALEM ó The former chief of the Landis Police Department who pleaded guilty last year to child pornography charges will serve more than 12 years in federal prison for the crimes.
Charles Childers appeared Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court, where Chief Judge James A. Beaty Jr. imposed the sentence. Childers’ family, including his wife, Holly, sat behind him in court.
Given a chance to speak, Childers stood and apologized to his family, his grandchildren, his daughter, his pastor and his church.
“And then to the court, for standing on this side of the law,” he said to the judge. “I just ask for your mercy.”
After serving the prison time, Childers will be subject to 10 years of supervised probation. The longtime law enforcement officer and chief of six years could have received up to 45 years in prison.
Childers, now 52, was arrested in 2006 after chatting online with an undercover State Bureau of Investigations agent who he thought was a 14-year-old girl from Michigan. He later connected with an undercover SBI agent who was posing as a 13-year-old girl.
At the time of his arrest, investigators said Childers had used computers at the Landis Police Department and his home, sometimes beginning chats at work and continuing them at his house. Authorities said Childers engaged in sexually explicit communications with the agents he thought were young girls and transmitted video files of underage people engaged in sexual activity to the Michigan agent.
Childers resigned as chief in late 2006. He pleaded guilty in January 2007 and, in May 2007, his bond was revoked. He’s been in the Guilford County Detention Center since that time.
He faced eight counts, but pleaded guilty to three under an agreement with federal prosecutors. The sentences for the counts to which Childers pleaded guilty added up to more than 27 years, but the judge agreed to allow the sentences to run concurrently, meaning he will only serve 121/2 years.
The counts he pleaded guilty to and their individual sentences were:
– Sending lewd and obscene images via a Web camera; five years in prison and three years of supervised probation.
– Attempting to coax an individual he believed to be a 14-year-old girl into engaging in sexual activity; 121/2 years in prison and 10 years probation.
– Knowingly possessing and mailing child pornography; 10 years in prison and 10 years probation.
Before sentencing, defense attorney Tom Cochran asked the court to consider that Childers had no prior criminal record.
Cochran said Childers had “suffered a lifetime of trauma since age three,” which had gone undiagnosed until his arrest. He added that Childers was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression.
Cochran maintained that Childers “self-medicated” using alcohol, drinking sometimes up to a fifth of liquor a day.
“He was never adequate in the eyes of his parents. He was always criticized,” Cochran said.
Cochran later said that as a child, Childers saw his mother killed in front of him.
He also said forensic reports did not indicate Childers could be classified as a sex offender.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DeFranco said Childers was “unlucky to talk with an undercover officer in the Midwest.”
DeFranco also pointed out that some of the Internet conversations Childers had were with real victims.
He dismissed the defense attorney’s argument that Childers had a hard upbringing.
“He put his difficulties in his rearview mirror. He in fact was a police chief for years,” DeFranco said.
In a statement referenced during the hearing, Childers said his alcohol abuse began in January 2006. DeFranco argued that wasn’t a factor in his crimes since investigators said he began chatting online before August 2005.
Childers apparently told investigators he did not need an alcohol treatment program because he’d sought spiritual guidance.
Beaty said that after his release, Childers is not allowed to possess sexually explicit material. His home will be subject to random searches and he is not to have a computer without prior court approval. He must also register as a sex offender.
Childers is not to have contact with anyone under the age of 18 without prior approval from his probation officer and is not allowed to be in a place where those who are younger than 18 would frequent. Any contact must be in the presence of another adult. If he finds himself in the presence of a minor, he’s supposed to “remove himself and contact his probation officer within 24 hours,” Beaty said.
The court recommended that Childers receive a comprehensive psychological evaluation and enroll in any suggested mental health treatment programs.
Any firearms that were seized are to be returned to the Landis Police Department. Also, the computers that authorities seized from the department and Childers’ home will be “cleaned” and returned, the judge said.
Childers has the option to appeal the conviction in 10 days.
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or email@example.com.
By Shavonne Potts