Ex-Manatee schools investigator cuts deal in Frazier case

Debra Horne agrees to community service, probation, may testify against co-defendants

Herald StaffFebruary 8, 2014 

MANATEE -- Former Manatee County School District investigator Debra Horne, one of five charged in the Rod Frazier investigation, has entered a pre-trial intervention program that -- if successfully completed -- allows the charges against her to be dropped, according to the State Attorney's Office.

Horne last year was charged with one felony count of failing to report child abuse after she investigated accusations that Frazier, a former assistant football coach at Manatee High School, had inappropriately touched at least one student. Horne was set to stand trial on June 16.

The conditions of Horne's agreement include that she serve 18 months' probation and perform 75 hours of community service.

"If called upon, she will need to testify truthfully against co-defendants," Assistant State Attorney Dawn Buff said.

Three other former administrators at Manatee High face charges that they did not properly report allegations against Frazier. Matthew Kane, Robert Gagnon and Gregg Faller are set to go to trial June 16.

Frazier currently faces 10 misdemeanor battery charges that he inappropriately touched students and other staff members at Manatee High. His case has not yet been set for trial.

Buff explained why Horne was offered the chance to have the charges dropped.

"She indicated her willingness to participate in the program, so we decided to offer it to her," Buff said. "The other three cases are proceeding with discovery."

Horne's attorney, Derek Byrd, said agreeing to the prosecution's offer was "bittersweet."

"We really feel that she was innocent," Byrd said.

There is no admission of guilt by entering into the diversion program. Despite feeling confident she had a strong case, it was decided that it was in her best interest to take the deal, Byrd said.

"It was not worth spending any more money, the prolonged stress and taking the chance at trial," Byrd said. "It is better to get the guaranteed dismissal."

Not many people get offered that chance, he said.

Horne will be eligible for early termination of the program in nine months if she completes all the conditions and does not violate any of those conditions, according to the agreement.

Bryd said he does not know if Horne has any plans to return to her career in school administration.

"She certainly enjoyed her career in education," Bryd said. "The biggest loss of all this is the loss of her career. Once the case is dismissed, she is eligible to have her record expunged."

Steve Valley, spokesman for the Manatee County School District, said the district could not comment on the latest development in the case.

"We are not able to comment. It is a bad precedent to set," Valley said.

John Bowen, the former school board attorney, said Horne never deserved to be charged.

"It was a result of hysteria, based on misinformation," Bowen said. "It was a travesty that it ever happened that she was charged."

Bowen also said he thinks it is unfair that Horne has agreed to enter the pre-trial intervention program.

"I don't think it's fair that she has to do anything," Bowen said. "There was no charge for abuse. There was not any criminal activity that was required to be reported."

Bowen said he does consider Frazier's conduct "inappropriate," and as a result, said the district had been planning on firing Frazier.

Frazier resigned from the school district after he was charged.

"Miss Horne was a fantastic investigator who had nothing but the best interest of children in mind," Bowen said.

Bowen said he is not familiar with the facts of other charges in the Frazier case.

Horne announced her retirement from the school district Oct. 14, the same day Gagnon, Kane and Faller were suspended without pay at a school board meeting. Her retirement went into effect Nov. 2.

A fifth school district official, Scott Martin, is not facing criminal charges, but he resigned after being recommended for termination by the school district in October.

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

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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