Final witnesses called in hearing for suspended Manatee assistant superintendent Robert Gagnon

jajones1@bradenton.comApril 24, 2014 

MANATEE -- Attorney Richard Reinhart hammered Manatee School District investigator Troy Pumphrey for the better part of three hours Wednesday over his inquiry into the Roderick Frazier improper touching case.

Three days of testimony ended in the afternoon with suspended assistant superintendent Robert Gagnon taking the witness stand in defense of his actions.

Reinhart, who represents Gagnon in his quest to get his job back, asked Pumphrey why he didn't interview a female student seen sitting on Frazier's lap eating cake, and who took a call from Frazier in class asking about her menstrual cycle.

Pumphrey said he attempted to interview the student, but she was unavailable.

Frazier, a parent liaison responsible for student discipline, eventually resigned

after he was suspended for his actions.

Gagnon faces criminal charges in a separate case for failing to report suspected child abuse. The administrative hearing this week involves Gagnon's attempt to reclaim his school position. The complaint against Gagnon indicates he should be terminated for immorality, misconduct in office, incompetence and willful neglect of duty.

Gagnon and Reinhart have insisted Gagnon acted properly based on information available.

Wednesday's hearing frequently became heated, with school district attorney Terry Harmon objecting several times about Reinhart badgering the witness.

"There is a lot of yelling at the witness," Harmon objected.

Administrative Law Judge Lynne Quimby-Pennock agreed, adding: "Let's continue down the road."

On another occasion, Reinhart objected when Harmon asked Pumphrey if Gagnon had ever tried to mislead him.

Reinhart called the question "inflammatory."

Quimby-Pennock sustained Reinhart's objection.

Reinhart called Pumphrey out for writing a letter to Superintendent Rick Mills in August 2013 after the investigator has been on the job just eight days. The letter recommended Gagnon, school district attorney Scott Martin and a secretary be suspended with pay.

The requested suspensions tarnished reputations built over years of distinguished service, Reinhart said.

"Their reputation was no consequence to me. I was asked to do a job," Pumphrey shot back.

All three suspended school officials had access to sensitive information, and having them on the same floor he was interviewing witnesses might have been intimidating to some with testimony to offer, Pumphrey said.

"I had a responsibility to the school district to get it right to the best of my ability," Pumphrey said.

Reinhart asserted Pumphrey had a clear directive on "who to take out" before he began investigating.

Pumphrey denied the accusation and said he had "no dog in the hunt."

Harmon called his final witness, Bill Vogel, just before the lunch break. Vogel, a former school superintendent in St. Lucie and Seminole counties, served on the disciplinary committee that reviewed Pumphrey's report.

Reinhart asked Vogel if he had done any investigation on his own.

"No, I did not. I relied on the report," Vogel said.

Reinhart began calling the first of 42 witnesses to testify Wednesday afternoon on behalf of Gagnon.

Linda Boone testified Gagnon was one of the most competent administrators she had ever met. He was forthright, straight-forward and effective, taking Manatee High School from a D grade to an A grade in one year, Boone said.

"He's highly respected in the education community," she said.

Noting testimony from Gagnon's witnesses was similar, Quimby-Pennock said she would not allow a parade of witnesses all saying the same thing.

"I'm not going to listen to the same thing over and over again," she said.

Reinhart said Pumphrey had "gone to great lengths to assail Mr. Gagnon's good name, and that his client was entitled to a rebuttal."

Reinhart stopped calling witnesses after five had taken the stand. He then read aloud the names of 37 others who he said would testify Gagnon was universally respected, changed Manatee High School for the better and improved discipline and academic performance.

Gagnon, the first witness to testify Monday when the hearing started, was last to testify Wednesday afternoon when it ended.

Only two teachers ever came to him with concerns about Frazier, Gagnon testified.

English teacher Patricia Aragon had conveyed concerns about Frazier two years apart, Gagnon said.

"She came to me and said she had a concern that the girls are getting too close to Coach Frazier in the golf cart," Gagnon said.

Gagnon said he saw Frazier and two other staff members in golf carts with students seated beside them. Gagnon said he called Frazier into his office and cautioned him about the practice.

Subsequently, Gagnon said he directed staff to be leery of having students in their golf carts.

Two years later, Aragon came to his office complaining Frazier had called her classroom and spoken to a female student about her menstrual cycle. The disclosure made him uncomfortable, Gagnon said, and he sent assistant principal Matt Kane to investigate.

Kane said the student had gone to Frazier in the morning before class and said she was starting to have her period and would need feminine protection, Gagnon said. The student told Frazier she was afraid her teacher would not allow her to go see the school nurse.

Frazier sent the student to her class with Aragon, and promised to follow up to see if she had been allowed to see the school nurse, Gagnon said.

"Now I had no concerns because the student went to him with a concern and he responded to the concern," Gagnon said.

The other teacher bringing a concern to Gagnon about Frazier was Donna Coates, who reported hearing two female students saying Frazier liked white girls. Coates asked the girls about the comment and they declined to explain.

Gagnon said he did not remember Coates discussing the overheard conversation, but said he did not dispute her account. Because the girls were unwilling to go forward with their concern, Gagnon said there was little he could have done.

In retrospect, Gagnon said he would have taken the comment at that time to mean Frazier showed favoritism to white girls, rather than having some kind of improper relationship.

Reinhart ended by asking if Gagnon ever tried to interfere with the Frazier investigation, give false information to Bradenton Police Department or give false information to Pumphrey.

To each question, Gagnon responded "no," or "I did not."

Quimby-Pennock said once the hearing transcript is filed, the two attorneys will have 14 days to file a recommended order.

Each attorney agreed to include a written closing argument in their recommended order. Quimby-Pennock will then begin deliberating on her findings, which will be posted on the Division of Administration website, probably some time in May.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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