A Chicago elementary school music teacher was arrested in September for secretly recording video of teachers and a special education student using a school bathroom. Within minutes of his arrest, NBC 5 Investigates easily uncovered his past history of similar incidents, but why hadn’t Chicago Public Schools found that same information, before they hired him in 2009?
It began on a midsummer night in 1993 in Normal, Illinois, when 13-year-old Jamie Nafziger spotted a man peering into the bedroom window of her 10-year-old sister, Jodi. Jamie ran to tell her dad, but by the time her father got outside, the man had fled into a house down the street.
He turned out to be an 18-year-old neighbor, named Elliott Nott – a local track star who had just graduated from high school. Police questioned him that night, but did not charge him.
But over the following days and weeks, the family continued to hear suspicious noises outside their home – with Nott’s car often parked directly across from their house. So, one night, the Nafzigers set up a “sting.” Jodi went to her room and turned on her lights, while the family kept all the other lights off. Soon, they saw a man come to the side of their house and look in Jodi’s window.
“My dad went around the back of the house, and our brother [went to] the front, and my dad got to him first,” Jamie said. “As soon as he saw my dad, he turned to run, and my dad said, ‘Elliot Nott – stop, or your dead!’”
Nott stopped, and the family again called the police, who – this time -- took a report. Jodi and Jamie said the family then debated whether to press charges, since Nott was so young.
“He had been watching us for quite a while,” said Jodi, “and we didn’t even know.”
“At this point, neighbors started contacting our parents,” said Jodi, “and they were saying ‘please press charges – he has been watching our daughters, and we have not been able to catch him.’”
“He knew that we knew who he was,” said Jamie. “And he didn’t stop. He needed help.”
So they pressed charges.
Nott eventually pleaded guilty to one count of window-peeping, receiving 18 months’ supervision and court-ordered mental health counseling.
“[After the incident] I slept on my parents’ floor for two years, at the foot of the bed,” Jodi said. “I woke up almost every night, thinking someone was coming into the home.”
When Jodi was in high school, she was afraid to come home to an empty house, and would just drive around until someone else got home.
Both sisters are now married with children.
“I’m [still] notorious for making sure every door is locked the moment that I come into my home and that the window shades are pulled down,” Jodi said.
Flash-forward 11 years, to the fall of 2004, in the small town of Henniker, New Hampshire. Henniker Police Officer Steve Dennis was out of town on a military deployment.
“My wife would call me late at night,” Dennis said. “She’d say, ‘You know, I swear to God I could hear something out behind the house.’ To be honest with you, I thought she was just hearing things at the time.”
It actually happened several times, according to Dennis’ wife Jenn.
“I could hear breathing outside my bathroom window,” she said. “It was very unsettling, knowing that there is a person that could possibly be looking in.”
On Sept. 7, 2004, after Steve Dennis returned to town, he was paying bills in his living room when he heard noises in the yard.
“When I went outside, it was dark, and I could hear the squeak of a wet sneaker,” he said. “When I looked to the left … there was a silhouette of an individual standing there.”
Dennis told the man to stop and come into the light.
“I was able to identify him as Elliott Nott,” he said.
The Dennis couple had met Nott in town before, but did not know him well. What they did know is that he taught music at a nearby elementary school, and coached track at New England College.
“I have kids,” said Steve Dennis, “and I can tell you right now: If I knew one of their teachers was like that, I wouldn’t want that person educating my kids – at all.”
It turned out that Nott had been spotted near the Dennis’ apartment several months before, by a neighbor who later identified him to police as the same man who was caught that night.
Elliott Nott was eventually found guilty of one count prowling and loitering, and was ordered to stay away from Jenn Dennis.
Within months, he had left New Hampshire and come to Chicago, where he got married, had two children, sang in local bands and chamber groups, and, according to his bio, coached track and cross-country at a local high school and college. And in 2009, Nott applied for a job with the Chicago Public Schools, and was hired that fall as the full-time music teacher for Ogden Elementary School on Chicago’s Near North Side. He also coached track and cross country at the school.
He worked there for the next six years.
It wasn’t until Sept. 7, 2016, 12 years to the day after Nott was arrested in New Hampshire, Ogden School’s principal Michael Beyer reported to Chicago Police that a teaching assistant had found a black Zetta motion-activated camera hidden in a third-floor adult bathroom at the school.
Two days later, according to Cook County prosecutors, Nott “went to Swedish Covenant Hospital and requested a psychological evaluation, during which he made admissions to a social worker, who notified the Chicago Police.”
Five days after that, on Sept. 12, Chicago Public Schools suspended Nott from his job. Then, on Sept. 21, Chicago police searched Nott’s home and charged him with seven counts of unauthorized videotaping, and one count of pornography involving a victim under the age of 13. According to the police, the hidden camera at Ogden had recorded one child – an 8-year-old special education student – as he used the bathroom. It also recorded six adults -- five women and one man – in the bathroom as well. Nott has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He is currently out on bond, on electronic monitoring, and continues to receive his CPS annual salary of more than $87,000.
Nott's current attorney declined NBC 5's requests to speak with Nott, citing the current court case.
But on the day that the news broke of Nott’s arrest on Sept. 21, NBC 5 Investigates ran a routine check of his history, using easily-accessible public databases. Within minutes NBC 5 quickly found Nott’s past criminal histories involving the Nafziger girls in Normal, and the Dennises in Henniker.
So why hadn’t Chicago Public Schools found that same information, before they ever decided to hire Nott in 2009?
NBC 5 filed a Freedom of Information Act request with CPS, asking for Nott’s personnel file. In response, CPS turned over Nott’s job application from 2009, but – citing a teacher-privacy provision in the Illinois School Code – CPS completely redacted Nott’s written answer to a question about his past criminal history. So what he told them remains unclear.
Additionally, a CPS spokesperson repeatedly refused numerous requests for an interview concerning Nott’s employment, citing an ongoing investigation. CPS even refused to sit down for a conversation to answer general questions about how they screen their applicants for past crimes. Instead, a spokesperson e-mailed a written statement:
"CPS conducts thorough background checks utilizing state and federal databases to identify anyone who is not fit to be a CPS employee. CPS recently instituted new training for school leaders reiterating the importance of rigorously vetting candidates — through multiple reference checks and other means — who otherwise meet state and federal standards for employment, and we will continue to seek out appropriate improvements to the background check process to help ensure the safety of our schools."
Still, questions remain over how Elliott Nott was hired despite his criminal past.
“I don’t understand how someone like that even got into a school system,” said Jenn Dennis. “I honestly don’t understand – with minor digging – how you could not find that out.”
“There should be something standardized that says, if you’ve been charged with A, B, or C, you can’t work with kids,” said Steve Dennis.
In Normal, Jamie Nafziger – now Jamie Outlaw – wants to have a say in Nott’s current court case, as a past victim.
“We haven’t been able to forget him,” she said. “He shouldn’t be able to forget us.”
“He should have been stopped long before it ever got to [the incident in Chicago],” said Jodi Nafziger – now Jodi Sides, who is especially concerned about the special education student at Ogden. “My heart goes out to that little child, because we really do understand.”