David Dennis was a respected former Wake County principal helping to train future teachers at Campbell University when, Boone police say, he posted an Internet ad – with a title “too vulgar to be released” – seeking sexual relations with a young girl.
But unknown to Dennis, police say, Boone detectives monitor known websites where adults attempt to contact underage children in hopes of arranging sexual encounters. Police say the suspect, Ralph David Dennis, 60, of 2905 Stone Gap Court in Raleigh, set up a meeting for sex in Boone with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
Instead, it was a Boone police detective.
When Dennis arrived at the agreed-upon location Wednesday in Boone, he was arrested by a detective and a State Bureau of Investigation agent.
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“Detectives seized items of evidence that they believe shows his intentions with the young girl if she had been a real child and had arrived at the meeting location,” according to a police statement.
Police charged Dennis with first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, soliciting a child by computer and taking indecent liberties with a child. He was released after going before a Watauga County magistrate and posting $200,000 bail. Dennis could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Raleigh detectives will investigate whether any offenses may have been committed locally, according to Jim Sughrue, a police spokesman.
Authorities said the arrest came after a joint investigation involving the Boone Police Department, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Dennis was an award-winning K-12 educator in North Carolina from 1977 to 2007, starting his career as a special-education teacher. He spent most of his career working for the Wake and Durham school systems.
From 1998 to 2005, Dennis was principal of Daniels Middle School, located on Oberlin Road near affluent old-Raleigh neighborhoods. He was named the Wake County PTA Council Outstanding Principal of the Year in 2003. A 2010 Campbell University news release also said Dennis was named the state’s Principal of the Year by the North Carolina Art Education Association.
He was principal of Cary High School from 2005 to 2007. In a December 2006 letter to Cary High students announcing his retirement, Dennis cited health concerns, including a family history of heart disease.
“It gets you thinking, maybe now is a good time to make a change,” Dennis said in a 2006 article.
Dennis, who grew up in Durham, joined the Durham Public School System in 1986. Dennis lists work as a principal at three Durham schools on his LinkedIn networking page: Eno Valley Elementary from 1989 to 1990, Little River Elementary from 1990 to 1995 and Chewning Middle from 1995 to 1998.
Dennis most recently has been an assistant professor at Campbell University’s School of Education and was director of the special education teacher certification program.
“Dr. Dennis brings a great deal of expertise and experience in the area of special education, a high level of energy and a wonderful sense of humor,” said Karen Nery, dean of Campbell’s School of Education, in the 2010 news release announcing his new position.
But on Thursday, Campbell spokeswoman Haven Hottel said she couldn’t comment on personnel matters and declined to discuss Dennis’ current status.
“The leadership of Campbell University has been notified that Dr. Dennis was arrested and charged for an incident in Boone, N.C.,” the university said in a statement. “We are cooperating with the law enforcement investigation. We cannot comment on personnel matters related to this individual and cannot add any details beyond what law enforcement officials have released.”
Pages on Campbell’s website that mentioned his name appear to have been removed.
Dennis earned a doctorate in education at Campbell in 1993 with an emphasis on school administration.
Wednesday’s arrest is the third involving suspected child predators announced by the Boone police this year.
In June, Boone police arrested a 59-year-old Mocksville man on charges of trying to solicit sex from an officer posing online as a 14-year-old girl. In January, Boone police arrested a 37-year-old Shelby man on charges of trying to solicit sex from an officer also posing online as a 14-year-old girl.
“The Boone Police Department is serious about stopping child predators that think they are going to come into Boone and take advantage of our children,” Police Chief Dana Crawford said in a statement.
News researcher Teresa Leonard contributed to this report.