AK Elementary School Teaching Assistant Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Massive Child Porn Collection

In the summer of 2014, an undercover police detective in New Zealand began trading images of child pornography with a man in Anchorage, Alaska. The detective forwarded information about the exchange to Alaska law enforcement officials, who used the data to obtain a search warrant for the home of Daniel Alan Brown, a teaching assistant in the special education program at the Huffman Elementary School.

According to a press release issued last week by United States Attorney Karen Loeffler, a computer forensics examination of Brown’s computer resulted in several disturbing revelations:

Located on the computer were more than 40,000 images and videos of child pornography. Many of these images and videos showed prepubescent males being sexually abused. Also located on the defendant’s computer were non-pornographic images of Anchorage-area children that he had recovered from various sources, to include publicly-available Facebook posts. In some instances, the defendant used these non-pornographic images as an avatar for file-sharing accounts through which he traded child pornography. At other times, the defendant posted these non-pornographic photographs on the file-sharing site and sought comments about the images from other traders of child pornography. These comments frequently included graphic descriptions of various sexual acts the defendant and others sought to perform on the children depicted in the pictures.

Brown was arrested in early December 2014 and was initially held without bail. Brown reportedly told FBI agents during an interview that he found child pornography online using a Russian Web site and the Yahoo! search engine. He said that he began collecting child pornography approximately ten years earlier (before beginning to work as a teacher) and that the frequency of his online trades had risen to as many as three times a week. In total, Brown said, he compiled roughly 100GB of sexually explicit images and videos of children.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon L. Gleason sentenced Brown to fifteen years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release, on a charge of distributing child pornography. He will be required to serve a minimum of 85% of his sentence, or 12.5 years.

As someone who has worked in the field of computer forensics for nearly 16 years, I can say with some confidence that someone in possession of more than 40,000 sexually explicit images and videos of children is at the high end of criminal culpability for this particular offense. The number of images collected reflects long and dedicated effort to amass sexually explicit images of children. In fact, given the number of images, it is somewhat surprising that the U.S. Attorney did not seek a longer sentence.

That’s particularly true given the fact that Brown reportedly used non-pornographic photos of his students — some from Facebook, others that he took himself — as avatars on child pornography sites or as conversation-starters with other traders of child pornography. In my experience, if a teacher is using actual images of children in any transactions involving child pornography (whether the images are sexually explicit or not), a U.S. Attorney’s office typically takes a much more aggressive approach to prosecution and proposed sentencing. Under the circumstances, a 12.5 year prison term seems like a surprisingly moderate sentence.

[Correction: The headline for this article was changed on October 26, 2015 to reflect the fact that the individual was a teaching assistant in the elementary school, and not a teacher. My thanks to Victoria Chamberlain for pointing out the error.]

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