Katie Walsh ‘20 and Ethan Ehrenhaft ‘20
On Monday, November 18th, Davidson Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Michael Bovino was arrested as part of a multi-state operation targeting potential child predators. Thirteen state and federal agencies from across the Carolinas, including the FBI and Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, participated in a multi-day online investigation dubbed “Operation Vigilant Shepherd,” which resulted in the arrest of 10 individuals, including Bovino.
Bovino, age 38, was charged with “attempted promoting prostitution of a minor,” according to a November 20th press release by the York County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Office, the lead law enforcement agency in the operation.
“At any given time there were 25-40 officers, analysts, and additional staff members working diligently during this operation,” stated York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson at a press conference. Tolson elaborated that undercover officers were contacted over social media by the suspects, some of whom provided pornagraphic images or attempted to solicit sex from presumed minors.
Kevin Atkins, Commander of the South Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force spoke to The Davidsonian about the significance of the arrests within the larger context of his law enforcement efforts at eliminating online predation of children. ICAC also participated in Operation Vigilant Shepherd. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office will handle the prosecutions, according to Atkins.
“It’s shockingly easy to get that many people to sign on to work an 80-hour week and participate in these long hours and live out of a motel […] Everyone’s ripping and roaring for the opportunity to catch these types of offenders,” Atkins commented.
The day of the arrest, Davidson President Carol Quillen issued an email informing the campus community of the “deeply disturbing” news that a visiting faculty member had been detained and offering resources to the student body and those enrolled in Bovino’s classes.
An official statement from the administration provided by Director of Media Relations Jay Pfeifer to The Davidsonian added that “The employee [Bovino] was placed on leave and barred from campus immediately following the arrest. The college cooperated promptly and completely with the investigation and cannot comment further regarding an ongoing criminal investigation.”
Bovino’s arrest and alleged crimes came as a shock to some students, particularly within the Chemistry Department, where the professor had been noted for his personability and engaging lectures. Reviews of Bovino’s teaching found on the popular website ratemyprofessors.com prior to the arrest were largely positive. One anonymous post from December 2018 touted his “great sense of humor” and wished “he would get offered tenure at Davidson.”
Chemistry major Alex Strasser ‘20, a former student of Bovino’s, affirmed these previous opinions of the professor.
“He was […] somebody who a lot of people had relationships with outside of class either in the sense that he would function as an advisor for graduate school or for people going to medical school […] So it came as a really big shock to a lot of us, especially the older guys who had been in several classes with him and had known him throughout the years,” Strasser stated, adding, “I don’t think anyone would have predicted this.”
Kathryn Moorehead, Director of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Human Trafficking Programs at the South Carolina Office of the Attorney General, discussed the challenges in combating sexual predators with The Davidsonian.
Bovino’s position as a college professor was specifically noted by many news outlets following his arrest. However, Moorehead and Atkins noted that perpetrators of these types of sex crimes come from diverse segments of society.
“When they do these stings you could have a pastor, you could have a law enforcement officer […] unfortunately, there’s no clear description or image of a child predator,” Moorehead stated.
“We arrested a police officer during one of these back in the summer while he was on duty […] We arrest doctors, lawyers, police officers, school bus drivers, whoever shows up, and they get the same treatment,” Atkins affirmed.
Chemistry Department Chair and Professor Dr. Durwin Striplin issued an email to the chemistry community on November 20th addressing Bovino’s arrest and offering support to students.
“I think that [the Chemistry Department] was really good at making sure all of our needs were addressed,” Strasser said, regarding the response of the department.
Following the arrest, James G. Martin Professor of Chemistry Dr. Erland Stevens took over Bovino’s Experimental Organic Chemistry sections for the remainder of the semester. Tentatively, the plan is for Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Nicole Snyder to cover Bonvino’s spring courses, according to Dr. Striplin.
Moorehead offered a reminder of the imminent need for education regarding the prevalency of crimes like prositution and human trafficking, specifically for members of college campuses.
“I think it’s incredibly important for various forms of education, whether it be general awareness on your campus, [on] tactics that traffickers and others take to lure in victims and exploit them, as well as education training for the administration and the staff that are teaching students and running the school. This needs to be on everyone’s radar,” concluded Moorehead.