'Morphed' porn found on teacher's Mac

He committed suicide after being accused of inappropriate e-mails.

Published May 30, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - In February, a tech support worker found a CD file folder marked "Students X" on a middle school science teacher's school laptop.

There, on the disc in Stephan Brown's Apple MacBook, were six of his students' faces superimposed onto 22 pictures of adult pornography, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report released Tuesday. Such "morphed" images still constitute child porn, a federal offense, the report said.

The file folder was among four that contained adult pornography as well as nonoffensive photos of Brown's students at Seven Springs Middle School working outside his classroom.

Brown, 47, killed himself sometime between Feb. 17 and 19, before authorities could question him about the pictures. It took three months for the sheriff's office to complete the investigation and release its findings, which shed new light on the teacher's suicide.

"The children weren't victims in the normal sense," sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said Tuesday, explaining why the investigation took so long. "They weren't committing sex acts or being photographed nude."

Detectives interviewed the students in the photos, according to the report. They said Brown never inappropriately touched them, and that Brown was a very good teacher.

In a job evaluation two years ago, principal Chris Christoff called Brown "a force in the science lab," someone who could "inspire even the most withdrawn students to love the scientific process."

Trouble began brewing in early February for Brown, who had taught in Pasco since 1993.

Brown sent e-mails to a 12-year-old student asking whether she had a boyfriend and urging her to share "the juicy details," according to the report. The girl's father found the e-mails Feb. 11 and called authorities.

The next day, Brown was placed on paid leave. The principal sent parents a letter saying the sheriff's office was investigating a complaint of "inappropriate electronic communications" between an employee and a student, offering no more specifics.

Authorities found nothing illegal when they searched Brown's laptop, the report said. But on Feb. 16, a tech support worker at the school found the pornographic photos on the disc. Brown resigned that day.

He was last seen Feb. 17. His wife, Beth Brown, principal at John Long Middle School, reported him missing the next day.

A sheriff's deputy found him Feb. 19 at the YMCA in Trinity. Brown had hanged himself at the ropes course.

If he were still alive, Brown could have be charged with a federal offense of possessing child pornography, said Steven Cole, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.

That's because the legal definition of child porn includes "morphed" images of children's faces on adult bodies performing sexual acts, Cole said. A person convicted of possessing such images could face up to five years in prison.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.