Bradenton police open investigation after allegations against Sugg Middle School PE coach

Bradenton police open investigation after allegations against Sugg Middle PE coach

eearl@bradenton.comMarch 6, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Bradenton police have opened a criminal investigation after they were informed Tuesday two female students at Sugg Middle School have accused the physical education teacher of inappropriately touching their breasts.

BPD Deputy Chief Warren Merriman said there are also questions about whether school officials reached out to law enforcement soon enough after learning of the accusations.

"We are also examining if officials properly notified law enforcement in a timely manner," Merriman said.

The coach has been reassigned to other duties as the investigation continues, according to the school district.

Law enforcement was notified of the complaints at 4:17 p.m. Tuesday, according to Bradenton police.

Superintendent Rick Mills said the school resource officer assigned by Bradenton police was attending an off-campus meeting at the time the students reported the incident and did not return to the school until shortly before 3 p.m.

According to an email Capt. Tim Christensen sent Tuesday to Merriman and BPD Chief Michael Radzilowski, Sugg Middle School administrators were informed of the allegations earlier in the day and started their own investigation without consulting law enforcement.

Police have identified more than one potential victim, Merriman said.

"They will be speaking with any students that were in his care," Merriman said.

According to Sugg Middle School Principal Sharon Scarbrough, the incident occurred during the third-period physical education class between 11:02 and 11:48 a.m., according to a timeline provided by school district spokesman Steve Valley.

Between 12:40 and 1:12 p.m., during eighth-grade lunch period, a female student approached a Sugg Middle School assistant principal in the cafeteria and said she had been touched on the chest area by a coach.

The assistant principal took the student to the administration office to report the situation.

The student and her friend said the victim had a breast cancer shirt on. The coach reportedly asked what the shirt said, then "swiped" his hand on her chest, Valley said.

School officials continued interviewing students before contacting law enforcement. A timeline released by the school district later in the day indicated interviews were conducted so officials could report to Child Protective Services.

After talking to the two students, Scarbrough called two random students from the combined physical education class and asked if they saw anything "different or peculiar" happen in class. The students said they did not know what Scarbrough was talking about.

Scarbrough informed Cynthia Saunders, executive director of middle schools for the Manatee County School District, of the incident around 1:45 p.m., according to Valley.

At 2:50 p.m., Saunders advised the school to call Child Protective Services.

The school contacted CPS about 3 p.m., according to Valley.

"We find that the School System was in compliance with the state requirement to notify CPS concerning the allegations at Sugg," Radzilowski said in an email.

Florida law does not require a school employee to obtain approval from a principal or a superior to report suspected child abuse or neglect. All Manatee County school employees undergo training for reporting suspected abuse.

This alleged incident follows the 2012-13 investigation of former Manatee High School assistant football coach Rod Frazier, who faces pending misdemeanor charges he improperly touched students and other staff members at Manatee High School. Four other district employees were charged with felony counts of failing to report allegations that Frazier had abused students.

Valley said Bradenton police contacted the district Tuesday afternoon.

School board Chairwoman Julie Aranibar said Valley emailed school board officials at 8:38 p.m. Tuesday informing them Troy Pumphrey, district investigator in the office of professional standards, had been notified of the complaints by the Bradenton Police Department.

Valley said the coach has been reassigned from his teaching duties to another district department, "pending the outcome of the criminal and/or administrative investigations."

Calls to Sugg Middle School administrators were not returned.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at eearl@bradenton.com.

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