Attorneys consider whether cases against former Manatee High officials in Frazier case should be separated

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 10, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The trial for the former school administrators implicated in the case against a former Manatee High School assistant football coach remains set for June, as attorneys on both sides of the consider whether the trials should be separated.

Robert Gagnon, Matthew Kane and Gregg Faller are each charged with one misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse and one felony count of failing to report child abuse.

On Monday, prosecutors filed amended charges against three former administrators implicated in the case, dropping misdemeanor charges of falsifying information to law enforcement.At a status conference hearing Thursday morning, Judge Peter Dubensky questioned Assistant State Attorney Dawn Buff and defense attorneys Brett McIntosh, representing Kane; Jon Weiffenbach, representing Faller; and Richard Reinhart, representing Gagnon, about whether the intention was still to try all three cases together.

"There is not a whole a lot overlapping," Weiffenbach said, although he had not decided yet whether to file a motion to sever.

McIntosh also had not made a decision, he said.

"It seems like what it is running towards is one trial with different juries, because the evidence is not the same against the three," Reinhart said.

Dubensky ruled that one trial with three juries was not an option and that he didn't think the evidence warranted separate trials.

"We need to decide if these cases are going to be tried together," Dubensky said. "So you all need to decide if you are going to file a motion to sever."

Dubensky ordered another status conference to be scheduled in about a month, by which time he expects

to make the decision.

Roderick Frazier, a former Manatee High assistant football coach and parent liaison, is facing seven misdemeanor counts of battery for inappropriately touching students, faculty and staff, as well as three misdemeanor counts of interfering with school attendance. Investigators say Gagnon, Kane and Faller were aware of the allegations against Frazier and failed to report to it the state child abuse hotline or inform law enforcement.

As of now, trial on June 16

All three are set to face a jury trial on June 16.

Gagnon is a former principal at Manatee High School, and Kane and Faller are former assistant principals at the school.

A fourth administrator, Debra Horne, a former school district investigator, was charged with one count of failing to report child abuse, but after having her case severed from the others entered into a pre-trial intervention program, which, if successfully completed, means the charges against her will be dropped.

"I'm very excited for the truth to come out," Gagnon said after the hearing. "I do not want to get off on a technicality, the truth will come out."

After the status conference, Dubensky heard several motions filed on Gagnon's behalf.

In one motion, Reinhart argued Gagnon did not have an obligation to report because Frazier has not been charged with child abuse or child sexual abuse; no students reported anything to him directly; faculty who did report to him had not actually observed the behavior; and that a school district policy states that "it is the responsibility of the first employee who has reasonable cause to suspect abuse to report it to the hotline and to do so immediately."

In court, Reinhart argued that if anybody had an obligation it was the faculty members, who are not charged in the case.

Buff argued that the school was not an environment receptive for a student to go to Gagnon.

Dubensky, having read the policy, said it did not specify a principal's responsibility when they learn the information second-hand.

"I am not sure at this point that a school board education program can trump a state statute," Dubensky said. "I am denying the motion to dismiss, but I am acknowledging how this could permeate the trial."

Dubensky also denied a motion to dismiss based on selective prosecution.

Reinhart argued that Gagnon was being singled out at a time when he had been made assistant superintendent of the school district and when his name was mentioned at a school board meeting as a possible choice for superintendent. Further, he argued that others who did not report to the hotline had not been charged.

"In this case, you have three other people who have been prosecuted," Buff said. "So he is not being singled out."

Dubensky granted motions filed by the defense to exclude certain testimony and other evidence as hearsay.

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

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