Teacher’s aide accused of abusing autistic students at Broward school

Investigators seek possible additional victims

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – Pembroke Pines police arrested an Exceptional Student Education aide at West Broward High School Tuesday after accusing him of “inappropriately touching” at least two students with mental disabilities.

According to an arrest report, 53-year-old John Harrison Smith was caught in the act by a campus security monitor.

The report states that on Dec. 13, Smith was in the school’s cardio room with several ESE students when the monitor noticed students through the door window while patrolling the campus.

After entering the room, the guard witnessed Smith “lying on top of” a student, police said.

The guard told investigators the victim was laying on the floor with her head on her hands, under her chin, while looking at a game or video on her phone on the floor, while Smith laid his front side on her back, the report states.

“(Smith)’s legs were straddled over the victim’s lower back/buttocks,” PPPD Special Victims Unit Detective Jacob Childress wrote in the report. “(His) upper body was atop (her) back and (his) hands were on the floor, holding himself up.”

The report states that when Smith and the security guard made eye contact, he got off the girl.

After the security guard advised two security staffers of what happened, the two staffers went to the cardio room to remove the girl, the report states.

Upon entering, the guards saw Smith standing against a different wall, “using an exercise apparatus,” police said.

The guards saw a second girl with her buttocks “pressed against the defendant’s front side (groin),” according to the report.

“(The guards) observed (her) moving slowly up and down while pressed against the defendant,” Childress wrote. “Upon seeing (the guards), (Smith) attempted to redirect (her) off of him.”

Childress said the girl “moved back to re-engage” with Smith, causing him to “again redirect and stop” her actions.

Both girls, aged 14 and 15, have autism and are developmentally challenged, with “limited verbal communication skills,” police said.

“It should be noted that (both girls) advised that (Smith) touched parts of their bodies, including their private areas (vagina, breasts and buttocks - outside the clothes),” Childress wrote.

Police arrested Smith on three counts of lewd and lascivious molestation of a victim under 16, two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct by an authority figure and two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct.

Smith was being held without bond at the Broward Main Jail as of Tuesday afternoon.

According to Broward County Public Schools, Smith has been employed with the district since 2019.

This is not the first time Smith has been accused of despicable behavior with students.

A report from last year, details claims from another autistic student at the same school.

The student said Smith gave her massages on her butt and her back, “multiple times,” according to the report.

When asked about the previous incident, a spokesperson for the school district told Local 10 News that investigators with the school system’s professional standards committee found insufficient evidence at the time to back up the claims.

According to the report, Harrison was only given a written reprimand back in February.

In a message to parents informing them of the arrest, West Broward High School Principal Brad Fatout said district administrators are “fully cooperating” with the police investigation and said Smith was removed from the school and away from students.

“Providing our students with high-quality learning opportunities in a safe, secure environment is our priority,” Fatout said.

After appearing in court on Wednesday, a judge set Smith’s bond at $650,000.

Pembroke Pines police asked anyone with information regarding “potential additional victims” to contact them at 954-431-2200.

About the Authors:

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.