Analysis of a Frame-Up: The Injustice against David “Dee” McMahon
This is the story of a gross miscarriage of justice in a totalitarian regime. The rule of law was absent, and the facts were cynically manipulated by the authorities of Shanghai and France in order to achieve a politically convenient outcome. This was done with a callous disregard for the welfare of a human being and for the truth.
In 2013, David “Dee” McMahon, a US citizen, was a 31-year old teacher at the Lycée Français de Shanghai (LFS), the main French-medium international school in Shanghai. Dee had helped the school establish and build their bilingual English curriculum, and had worked diligently and successfully at LFS for five years without any complaints whatsoever against him.
In late 2012 another American teaching at the same school, Hector Orjuela, had been discovered sexually abusing two twin girls in primary school. To the certain embarrassment of the Shanghai authorities and the school’s board of governors, Orjuela was discovered to be a fugitive from justice, having committed similar sex offenses in America. He was questioned by the FBI and deported to America, where he faced trial for his earlier instances of sexual molestation involving victims in the United States, in addition to his China offenses.
Shanghai authorities and the school thus conveniently washed their hands of the embarrassing Orjuela case, while this sex offender readily admitted guilt in court in America and was duly sentenced to 30 years in a U.S prison. The French school in Shanghai never had to answer to its own key fault — how and why it had hired Orjuela in the first place, without unmasking his past of child sex offenses. This was in fact the biggest HR due diligence failure at any international school in China up to that time.
Yet in the spring of 2013, Dee found himself accused of the same crimes by the parents of the same twin girls victimized by Orjuela, despite overwhelming evidence that Dee’s alleged offenses could not possibly have taken place. He was never alone in the classroom, never alone with an individual student, and the tiny classroom library area where abuse allegedly occurred had an unobstructed view from the hallway. Moreover, there was the glaring truth that in his five long years teaching at the school where he had taught hundreds of children, not one had ever accused him of improper conduct until Hector Orjuela was arrested and deported.
Close analysis suggests that the trigger for these groundless accusations was the parents’ mistaken belief that Dee had been a close friend of Orjuela, while in fact they had not been friends but mere colleagues. These parents aggressively marshaled a tight clique of other French expatriate parents at the school in lobbing identical accusations against Dee. The school, without carrying out an independent internal inquiry, fueled the process of false accusation and fantasy spinning with the assistance of the French Consulate in Shanghai.
Dee found himself thrown to the tender mercies of the Shanghai judicial system, undergoing a show trial, which convicted him exclusively on the words of six-year-old children who were manipulated by prejudiced adults. This was done without any consideration for the total lack of physical evidence and ignored all the glaring contradictions amongst the children’s statements and adult testimony, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to any of the myriad factors that pointed towards Dee’s innocence.
As of April 2017, Dee has now been unjustly held in Chinese jails in Shanghai for almost four years, and is serving a 12-year sentence that resulted from this flawed judgment in conditions that violate international legal treaties signed by China.
Despite the fact that in China making spurious “confessions” is a recognized way of obtaining leniency (regardless of whether a crime was committed or not) Dee is one of only two prisoners at Qingpu Prison in Shanghai who has steadfastly, consistently refused to make such a confession.
What we believe really happened is that the accusing parents, already deeply traumatized by their daughters’ prior experience as victims of Orjuela, overreacted massively to their daughters’ routine manifestations of respect and affection for Dee, a common response for the parents of sexual abuse victims.
The parents then inevitably raised the matter with the school in terms that brooked no opposition, and they were ready to go public if the school did not take drastic action. Regardless, a few weeks after they made their accusations, these parents repeated their story to the media, no doubt placing enormous pressure on the school and government to take decisive action.
Faced with an explosive situation that could permanently damage the reputation of a school whose negligence had already let the “fox into the henhouse” earlier, when it allowed sex offender Orjuela into its midst to prey upon its pupils, the school authority found itself cornered and appealed to the French Consulate, which took the law into its own hands.
There are unmistakable reports by witnesses at the time of the Consulate stepping in forcefully against Dee and pressuring the many dissenting parents, school staff, and even the principal, all of whom knew Dee was innocent, into a grudging silence. There are also reports by these same sources that, at the very least, the French consular officials discussed the case with their US counterparts, implying collusion to prevent US obstruction.
LFS, like most French international schools, is affiliated with none other than the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and receives partial funding from the French government. Thus, the reputation of French schools abroad is generally seen to be tied to that of the French state itself.
It is supremely clear that what was being held up as the second child abuse scandal at LFS in less than a year, this time made spectacularly public by angry parents, would not have served French interests as the Consulate understood them.
What almost certainly happened was the French Consulate deliberately set out to build a case against Dee. Somewhere along the process it may also have secured guarantees from the US that they would not interfere while one of their own citizens was framed. The French then delivered an entirely prejudiced case to the Shanghai intermediate court, which would have been only too eager to take receipt of a pre-packaged foreign scapegoat and to be seen as a resolute enforcer of justice, especially after the Orjuela fiasco.
All parties therefore stand to gain from the ugly scapegoating of Dee: the French and US governments avoid a scandal involving their school and one of their citizens, respectively, in relation to a type of crime rightly viewed with particular revulsion and perpetrated in a country of the highest strategic importance to them. The Shanghai authorities meanwhile restores its reputation with its own restive citizenry by sentencing a defenseless foreigner to a harsh sentence.
Everyone benefits except Dee himself, sacrificed like so many before him on the altar of the raison d’état.