Michael David Smith

A Santa Maria High School English teacher and assistant varsity basketball coach has been placed on leave while being investigated for alleged possession and distribution of child pornography.

Michael David Smith, 53, of Santa Margarita was arrested at approximately 6:30 p.m. Thursday at a residence in Santa Margarita, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said. 

On Jan. 14, the Sheriff’s Office received information that child pornography was being downloaded and distributed from a computer at a residence located in the 22000 block of I Street in Santa Margarita. 

Detectives with the sheriff’s Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team served a search warrant at that location on Thursday, seizing computers, laptops, external hard drives, memory cards and DVDs. 

“On one external hard drive alone, there were multiple images of pre-pubescent children engaged in sexual acts,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “At this time, there is no evidence the manufacturing of child pornography was being conducted at the residence.

“The images appear to have been downloaded from the Internet and then distributed. The rest of the seized electronics will be forensically analyzed for child pornography. “

Smith was arrested on suspicion of one count of possession of child pornography and one count of distribution of child pornography. 

Detectives were working with the Santa Maria Police Department and school officials “and at this point there is no indication these crimes were committed on school grounds,” the Sheriff’s Office said.

“If you prey upon the youngest members of our society, we will find you and we will arrest you,” said Tony Cipolla, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

Smith reportedly taught Introduction to Literature, Journalism and Publications (Yearbook) in addition to serving as assistant coach for varsity boys’ basketball, according to the school’s website.

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District said in a statement released Friday that officials learned of the investigation Thursday night. 

“The employee was arrested in SLO County for alleged penal code violations. The district has placed the employee on leave …,” the district’s statement said. “We are cooperating with law enforcement and will continue to do so during the investigation.”

Smith’s mid-season arrest is reminiscent of the arrest of Orcutt resident Brian Hook, the girls basketball coach at Pioneer Valley High School in 2014 as the team entered the first-round of playoffs.

The former social science teacher at Pioneer was arrested in February for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a student, whose name wasn’t released because she’s a minor, police said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.