Investigation of Manatee assistant football coach Frazier continues

Herald Staff WritersMay 27, 2013 

BRADENTON -- As the school year ends and graduations begin, the state attorney's office is still investigating allegations that a Manatee High School administrator, who also is a well-known assistant football coach, had an inappropriate relationship with at least one female student.

The girl, now a senior, has left Manatee High and eventually became an online student -- because, her mother says, of the incidents. She is seeing a psychologist, struggling with her grades, and doesn't know if she'll receive a diploma.

Rod Frazier, a Manatee alum who has served as a parent liaison and coached the Hurricanes' running backs, is under investigation that he touched the girl inappropriately, sent her sexually explicit text messages and arranged after-school meetings in a nearby park. The teenager made the accusations in a letter delivered in January to Manatee High, addressed "To whom it may concern."

The case involves a football dynasty in a year when the team was working to repeat a state championship win, raising questions about whether allegations against an assistant coach went ignored to protect the team's morale.

But the case also appears based on much hearsay and rumors about a coach who was too friendly with female students. Text messages that might have been able to show the extent of a relationship between the coach and a student disappeared. The investigation includes former students who have been reluctant to testify and people who heard complaints about Frazier but didn't witness events.

In the meantime, spring football began without Fra

zier on the sidelines as he remains on paid administrative leave.

Frazier was questioned months before the girl's letter appeared. Manatee High Principal Don Sauer first raised questions last November after hearing rumors the assistant coach was too close to students. Frazier was suspended for a day, but was back on the football field the same week.

In January, the case was picked up by Bradenton police detectives after the girl delivered the letter. The district put Frazier on paid administrative leave in February, and detectives turned their case over to the State Attorney's Office in April.

Frazier's attorney, Edwin T. Mulock, said the case is based on rumors. He is waiting on the state attorney's office to decide whether it will go forward with charges.

"Right now I have some evidence I would like to present to the state attorney's office and I have not been able to do so yet," Mulock said last week. "The assistant state attorney has told me she will inform when she decides to take action so that I can present exculpatory evidence."

Steve Gulash, an assistant coach who shared an office with Frazier, agreed to discuss the case with the Bradenton Herald. The girl's mother also discussed the case at length with the Herald, who is not naming the family at this time. Both came forward with concerns and accusations against Frazier, and have been cooperating in the investigation.

Gulash said he and others at Manatee High have been concerned for some time about Frazier and how he behaved with students.

Gulash admits he never actually saw Frazier do anything illegal with a student, but said things occasionally looked "odd."

"If we believe a fellow member of our school is putting a student in danger, we immediately report it to administration. That's what we did," he told the Herald. "None of us saw anything sexual in nature. You saw over-friendliness, a little too close."

In one instance, Gulash said, a girl told him that Frazier sent her a friend request on Skype. Gulash told the student to report it to the principal, but he never followed up to see what happened.

Now, Gulash says, he feels like he is being watched for any misstep since he talked with investigators.

Gulash questions timing

When questions surfaced in November, Manatee's football team was undefeated, ranked No. 1 in three national polls and in the middle of the Class 7A playoffs.

During the second week of November, Sauer asked Steve Rinder, a counselor at the school, to find out whether anyone had heard rumblings about Frazier in connection with inappropriate relationships with students. Rinder approached Gulash, who then went to the principal with five specific incidents.

According to school policy, the district investigates any allegations that an employee has violated School Board Policy, the Code of Ethics and the Principles of Professional Conduct of the Education Profession in Florida, the State Board of Education Rule, or state or federal statute.

At that time, Debra Horne was the district's only investigator. She has since transferred to another position.

Gulash said the five incidents he reported included two he knew about personally: the girl who said Frazier tried to friend her on Skype and another rumor involving a former female student who had an inappropriate relationship with Frazier.

The other three incidents were from teachers, Gulash said, including a teacher who had seen the girl who wrote the letter sitting on Frazier's lap in his office, and a teacher who showed him text messages sent to the girl who wrote the letter. Gulash declined to name the other teachers. In both cases, he said he told the teachers to report the incidents to the principal.

When Gulash met with Horne, he asked about the scope of the investigation.

"'You're interviewing us, but did you talk to any of the kids?'" he recalled asking Horne. "She didn't say anything. The next day, it's closed out. It's done. There's no way in hell they could have talked to all those kids and closed out that investigation. And 24 hours later, he's back on campus? That's scary."

Frazier was suspended for one day during that week -- but returned to school the following day and coached the game Friday night.

Gulash said he told Manatee coach Joe Kinnan that he had been questioned about alleged improprieties involving Frazier and students. Gulash said Kinnan knew nothing about Frazier's behavior off the football field.

"He said, 'Steve, you tell the truth, you do what's right, and if you have any information, you need to tell them what has occurred. You have to do the right thing,'" said Gulash, who also played under Kinnan and was a member of Manatee's 1992 state championship team.

Still, Gulash said he believes Manatee High's administration didn't want the Frazier case to get in the way of the football team's attempt at winning state and national titles.

Gulash recalled telling Matt Kane, an assistant principal at Manatee High, that he told Horne about the rumors involving Frazier, including what he saw as Frazier being "overfriendly" with students.

"I said, I told the truth in there, just so you're aware of it,'" Gulash recalled telling Kane, the day Frazier returned to work. "And he said, 'Well, that's fine, but we just need to get this cleared up and resolved because we've got a game tomorrow night.' "

When contacted by the Herald, Kane and Horne declined to comment on the case, which is still under investigation.

The investigation

The girl's mother dropped off the three-page letter from her daughter dated Jan. 9, 2013, at Manatee High. In that letter, the teenager gave explicit details of her contact with Frazier, saying she met him two years earlier during her sophomore year when she was sent to his office for not having her school identification during lunch.

Parent liaisons supervise behavior in the school hallways and cafeteria, handle routine discipline referrals and refer serious offenses to the assistant principal. Their duties also include monitoring student attendance, contacting parents as needed, and supervising students during the arrival and departures of buses.

When Bradenton police launched their investigation, the girl's mother said the police came to see her and asked why she had not gone to them directly.

"Because I have no proof. I have absolutely no proof," the mother said she told police. "This is my daughter's word against Frazier's word."

The Bradenton Police Department completed its investigation into the accusations against Frazier after interviewing more than 50 people. It was forwarded in April to the State Attorney's office, which will decide whether to file any charges.

"They are still actively investigating it," Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said. "The time the state attorney's office is taking is perfectly normal. They want to make sure every 'i' is dotted and every 't' is crossed.

"We don't want to press them," the chief added. "Let them decide what they need to decide."

Assistant State Attorney Dawn Buff is overseeing the case for the state attorney's office but would not comment on the allegations because it is an open investigation.

"If law enforcement hands over a case, we review it," Buff said. "We may talk to additional witnesses, the same witnesses they have talked to, review documentation, listen to tapes."

The accusations

In her letter delivered to Manatee High, Frazier's accuser said that at first Frazier was very nice to her and never acted "weird or strange," and that she trusted him -- even after a classmate, another sophomore, told her that Frazier had asked her for a photo.

"I actually met a girl my sophomore year in gym class who was a senior and she told me and showed me a picture of her naked that she sent Frazier because he asked for it," the girl wrote in her letter to school officials.

According to the girl's letter, Frazier got her cell phone number when she was a sophomore from one of Manatee High's football players and he began texting her during and after school.

After that the girl began spending more time in Frazier's office. When she broke school rules, Frazier did not call her parents or report her to the assistant principal.

"He would tell me I owed him for keeping me out of trouble while looking down at his pants, laughing and giggling," she wrote. "He would text me to tell me he loves me and misses me. He would even tell me to send naked pictures of myself, which I never did."

The girl also said Frazier touched her in inappropriate ways.

"When we were in his office, he would give me a hug," she wrote, "rub his hand on my upper leg, grab my thigh and butt."

Still the girl said she trusted him and didn't tell her parents anything. But by then, her mother said she began to question her daughter's slipping grades, her absences from class and why she was in Frazier's office so often.

The girl and Frazier apparently met a few times after school during her junior year at Sutton Park, which is near the girl's home.

"One time I met him at the park," she wrote, "when we were leaving he asked for a hug and reached over a(nd) picked me up by my behind. It was very awkward for me but I didn't say anything to him because I didn't know what to say."

It was at that point the girl said she was no longer comfortable around Frazier.

"Whatever happened that night, the realization hit her that he wanted a lot more than just buddy, buddy," her mother said. The teenager stopped meeting him for lunch and at the park, and no longer exchanged text messages with him, she said.

The girl said in her letter that's when her troubles in school began.

"He started getting me in trouble and writing me referrals for things I had never got in trouble for," she wrote, "such as my shorts, leaving campus during lunch, being out of order, the stupidest things."

Over that summer, between her junior and senior year, months before she wrote the letter, the girl's parents transferred her to Palmetto High School. By then, the teenager's grades had dropped, she had become secretive and withdrawn and stopped playing sports, her mother said.

Reports of bullying

Since the letter became public, the girl said she has been the target of harassment and bullying. Her mother said she left Palmetto High and is taking classes at home because rumors followed her from Manatee High.

She contends she has been harassed on her Facebook page. Gulash found out that students were reportedly bullying the girl on Facebook and called the family about it.

Once he confirmed with the family that she believed she was being bullied, he called a detective at the Bradenton Police Department to ask how to handle it. The detective told him to take screen shots of the conversations.

Gulash went to the girl's house and got the screen shots and emailed them to his work account. He said he intended to tell Sauer, his supervisor, about the bullying, but Sauer wasn't at school yet. He forwarded his emails to the police. In the meantime, the girl's parents went to the Palmetto police with the bullying accusations and told them about Gulash's role.

Sauer asked Gulash what was going on. Gulash admitted that he had gone to the police without first notifying Sauer. The principal reported what had happened to the district, and a district official met with Gulash.

Gulash said the meeting was a reprimand, although an official reprimand does not appear in his personnel file. District officials say they met with him to discuss the chain of command and protocol in cases involving students. Sauer did not return calls for comment.

The district has since hired Carol Springer Investigations to examine how the matter was handled. Her report is slated to be released this week. The Palmetto Police Department, which had jurisdiction in the case, determined there was nothing criminal about the Facebook exchanges and no action was taken.

Frazier's history

Frazier, a University of Florida graduate with a degree in sociology, worked at the Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center before taking a job at Manatee High School.

He took a job with the Department of Juvenile Justice in October 2001, where he scored well on evaluations and had been promoted to a shift supervisor.

Frazier resigned from the job in August 2006, citing family issues.

"Due to the needs of my family it is no longer in my best interest to continue my employment with the facility," Frazier wrote in his resignation letter.

At home, Frazier was experiencing trouble, records show. In 2007, his wife filed protection orders against him twice.

In her filing, Frazier's wife claimed he said inappropriate things to his children and had begun drinking excessively and occasionally abusing drugs.

"I believe my husband is severely depressed, as he cries on a daily basis. He states that he wishes he were dead, and that no one loves him," Janet Frazier wrote.

The couple was in financial trouble with two mortgages and credit cards bills stacking up, according to records filed with the clerk of court.

"On another occasion approximately 6 weeks ago I had to call 911 because he swallowed about seven ambien," Janet Frazier wrote in 2007. "On another night a week before this I left our home because we continued to argue. About an hour later his friend called to tell me he had swallowed several ambiens and he was incoherent. This was done while he was home alone with our 4-year-old and 2-year-old children."

In one report, Janet Frazier stated that her husband also admitted that he had used cocaine.

According to court records, the two are separated but have not divorced.

John Lembo, sports reporter, can be reached at 941-745-2097. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnLembo1878.

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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