Testimony to continue as former Manatee school administrator fights for his job

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 23, 2014 

MANATEE -- Former school district investigator Debra Horne and her successor gave conflicting testimony Tuesday in the second day of the administrative hearing for Robert Gagnon as he fights to keep his job with the Manatee County School District.

Horne testified Gagnon never influenced her investigation, interfered or expressed a desire for a certain outcome in her probe of the actions of Roderick Frazier, a former parent liaison and assistant football coach at Manatee High.

Gagnon, a former school district administrator and Manatee High School principal, is fighting the Manatee County School Board decision to fire him last year after criminal charges were brought against him in the case against Frazier.

Investigators say Gagnon failed to report allegations against Frazier for inappropriately touching students. Gagnon is charged with one felony count of failure to report child abuse and one misdemeanor count of failure to report child abuse, which will be decided in a separate court case.

Gagnon had just been promoted to assistant superintendent when he was fired. His actions involving Frazier's child abuse case were questioned in court Tuesday, particularly involving the return of Frazier to his duties just one day after the allegations of inappropriate touching surfaced.

Horne investigated allegations against Frazier in November 2012 for about one day, and then again in January 2013 before being transferred out of the Office of Professional Standards.

School district attorney Terry Harmon questioned Horne about possible pressure being placed on her by Gagnon to clear Frazier because of a football game scheduled the night of the second day of her investigation.

"Gagnon told me if we are not finding anything, we need to bring him back. If we are finding something, then something needs to be done," Horne said,

Other witnesses offered testimony less favorable to Gagnon.

Former school district attorney Scott Martin testified Gagnon told him it would expand rumors and hurt a district employee if Frazier wasn't at the game the day after Horne had begun her 2012 investigation, Martin said.

Witness Christina Ruggiero, former assistant to Horne, said a conversation between Gagnon and Horne was more direct.

"She got in the elevator and said: 'Bob said get him back on the field,' " Ruggiero said.

School district investigator Troy Pumphrey testified the focus of the Frazier investigation was not clear initially and the scope expanded as he kept digging.

"I knew that there had been allegations of employee misconduct dealing with failure to report special child abuse and Mr. Frazier allegedly had touched female students," he said. "That's about all I had."

Pumphrey, who is not from Manatee County and was not in on the start of the Frazier probe in 2012 or 2013, said he began by pulling all published information on the case, including police reports and public records.

Frazier was still employed by the school district as Pumphrey took over the investigation. Frazier resigned three days later on July 26, 2013. From then on, Pumphrey said the investigation was no longer specific to the former Manatee High assistant football coach and parent liaison.

"Through the information that I read and through the interviews that first two days, it really became clear to me that Frazier, in my mind, was a very small part of a larger problem," he said. "My investigation then changed to administrative controls. I believe that if the information that I was reading was accurate, there was some underlying question as to how a case that was so convoluted, so large and with so many branches, was able to be investigated over a 20-hour period (in 2012)."

Pumphrey said he's spent a lot of time on this case.

"In all my years of investigating, I've never been in a situation where I had to make a recommendation to the superintendent to remove his second in command and his attorney," Pumphrey said, a reference to his recommendation Gagnon and two other school employees be placed on paid administrative leave. "That was very unusual for me."

Defense attorney Richard Reinhart elicited testimony in favor of his client from another witness besides Horne

Detective Leonel Marines testified his investigation into the Frazier allegations led to charges by Bradenton police. Marines said one teacher said she told Gagnon about seeing Frazier slap a female student on the buttocks and Gagnon seemed sincerely interested.

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

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