Psychologist's interest in nudism may be defense against sex charges

May 25, 2009 - 3:02PM

MOREHEAD CITY - A Carteret County school psychologist's interest in nudism may also play a part in his defense against allegations involving the sexual exploitation of a minor.

Johnny E. Clevinger, 51, of Morehead City, notes his interest in naturism and social nudism in an online profile and made no secret of his lifestyle choice when police officers questioned him about photographs he had developed of a nude male in his early teens.

"When officers talked to him on (May 17), he indicated he is a nudist and that he goes to nudist camps," said Morehead City Police Department Maj. Richard Abell.

But that didn't explain away the photographs, which investigators found were inappropriate and crossed a line that gave them probable cause for criminal charges, Abell said.

"The photographs the officers saw initiated the charges and, in their opinion and the opinion of the assistant district attorney here in Carteret County, they felt there is something more to it than just a photograph of a nude child."

Thomas Clevinger, 18, one of Johnny Clevinger's five adopted sons, told WITN-TV that the family practiced nudism.

"The public sees it as a bad thing because you are naked," he said. "We've grown up knowing that naked is not bad."

Thomas Clevinger said his adoptive father might have made a "wrong decision" in taking pictures of nude boys.

"Because, yes, he does deal with a lot of people's children as a school psychologist," he said.

Police arrested Clevinger on May 19 and charged him with first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor as well as taking indecent liberties with a child.

According to the arrest warrant on the sexual exploitation charge, the victim is 12 years old.

Morehead City Police Department initiated an investigation after employees from a local business contacted authorities about the suspect pictures, which Clevinger had taken in to be developed.

On the night of Clevinger's arrest, police executed search warrants for his residence, his vehicle and workplaces at the three Carteret County schools where he worked as a school psychologist.

Police seized three computers that will be forensically analyzed at a State Bureau of Investigation laboratory to determine if there are any suspicious photos or files or if any of Clevinger's alleged activities have included the illegal distribution of materials of the Internet.

Police also seized hundreds of photos found loose and in photo albums at the residence and are now sorting through them to determine if there's anything inappropriate or sexually explicit. Among the materials seized were other nude photos of more than one child.

The police department has declined to provide further details about the nature of the photographs to protect the integrity of the investigation, Abell said.

Clevinger has been suspended with pay from his duties with the Carteret County Public Schools system.

In response to questions and concerns about a suspension with pay rather than without pay, the school system released information from Carteret County Board of Education attorney Neil Whitford explaining the process.

Whitford said state law provides the procedures for the dismissal of professional public school employees. One of the grounds for dismissal is the conviction of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude.

An arrest alone is not sufficient for dismissal and Whitford said it is important to remember that under our judicial system we are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Suspension with pay gives a school system superintendent time for an internal investigation of whether grounds exist to dismiss the employee. The suspension is limited to 90 days and can be extended longer with the agreement of the employee.

However, if a superintendent imposes a suspension without pay, state law requires that a dismissal proceeding begin within five days.

Whitford said that gives a superintendent very little time to put together a case for the hearing, which is trial-like and includes standards of evidence to protect the accused. In cases of off-campus criminal activity, the school system may not get evidence it needs from local law enforcement for several weeks.

"As a result, most suspensions are with pay to give the superintendent time to determine if enough evidence exists to justify a dismissal," Whitford wrote.


Staff writer Jannette Pippin can be reached at or 910-382-2557.