Trial of 3 ex-Manatee High officials in Frazier scandal could wrap up Tuesday

jdeleon@bradenton.comJune 16, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Witnesses in the trial of three former Manatee High School administrators described Monday how they had told defendants -- former principal Robert Gagnon and assistant principals Gregg Faller and Matthew Kane -- about then-coach Roderick Frazier's inappropriate contact with students.

Prosecutors charge that the former administrators failed to report the suspicions to the state child abuse hotline, as required by state law. If they are found guilty, the three each face up to five years in prison. The state might finish presenting its case on Tuesday.

In the first day of testimony, Manatee High School teacher Patricia Aragon told Judge Peter Dubensky that she had told Gagnon about an incident in which Frazier called a female student in her classroom and asked about her menstrual cycle.

Assistant State Attorney Dawn Buff questioned her about what she had overheard or observed.

"She was upset, she was angry, acting. And she hung up on him," Aragon said.

After conferring with the teachers' union representative for advice, Aragon said she told Gagnon about the incident and other concerns, including Frazier taking female students behind closed doors.

"And I told him I think you should look into that," Aragon said. "'Oh,' he said, 'he's OK.'"

During cross examination, Gagnon's attorney, Richard Reinhart, questioned whether Aragon had followed up with Gagnon.

"I asked him if he handled it, and he said yes," Aragon said.

Aragon also testified that Frazier began acting differently toward her.

Reinhart attempted to impeach her as a witness, citing a whistleblower lawsuit she filed against the school district in January claiming retaliation for what she reported about Frazier. But Aragon said she had taken her leave of absence months before filing.

He also questioned why she didn't report her suspicions further.

"According to our protocol, you are supposed to call your superior," Aragon said. "Now I know more because we had the wrong protocol."

Frazier, 36, pleaded no contest in April to four counts of battery and two counts of interfering with a student's attendance. He had been charged with improperly touching students and other staff at Manatee High School. In exchange for his plea, the State Attorney's Office dropped three counts of battery and one count of interference.

Gagnon, Faller and Kane each face one felony count of failing to report child abuse and one misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse. If found guilty, they face up to 5 years in prison. All three waived their right to a jury trial, so Dubensky is hearing the case and will render the verdicts.

Renee Sparkman, a former Manatee High student, testified Monday afternoon about an inappropriate conversation she heard Frazier have with another student and then reported to Kane.

A student walked into the in-school suspension room talking about throwing a lingerie party, while Frazier was supervising the students.

"They were talking about inappropriate things in time-out," she said. "I wanted to go to the office to talk to Mr. Kane."

Sparkman said she started walking out, but Frazier attempted to stop her. After she told him not to touch her, he radioed the office, she said.

She said Kane and Bradenton School Resource Officer Fredy Ordonez came to get her in response to Frazier's radio call.

"That's when they took me to Gagnon's office, and they said if I kept making false allegations that they were going to arrest me," Sparkman said.

During cross-examination, Reinhart questioned her about the incident taking place in Gagnon's office, citing previous testimony where she never mentioned Gagnon's name.

The defense also introduced into evidence her discipline record and the fact that she was banned from walking during graduation and attending prom, to question her credibility.

Sparkman confirmed she was upset about those incidents.

Her mother, Lisa Sparkman, also testified about her conversation with Kane and Ordonez after the lingerie party comment incident.

Kane told her he would look into the matter, Lisa Sparkman said.

"Officer Ordonez said that he felt she was making false allegations and if she kept it up that she would be arrested," she testified.

Manatee High School teacher Katie O'Dell testified that she saw Frazier bring a female student a lunch to her classroom and that he reported it to Faller.

O'Dell said when she questioned the student, she was told that Frazier brought her lunch for her so she wouldn't have to go into the lunchroom and get in trouble with Faller because of the length of her shorts.

"I thought it was questioning Mr. Faller's authority, if someone was going behind his back and bringing them lunch so they don't get in trouble," O'Dell said.

O'Dell said she was told by Faller that he would handle it.

During cross-examination, O'Dell said Faller had always addressed all her concerns previously.

Testimony started Monday with the prosecution calling to the stand Stephen Rinder, coordinator of dropout prevention and student intervention at the district.

Rinder said he had heard multiple reports about Frazier's behavior.

"It was coming radically over the course of a couple weeks," said Rinder, whose office is at Manatee High. "I have five staffers who I work with on a daily basis that were coming to me."

Rinder said he went to then-Manatee High Principal Don Sauer with his concerns, who in turn asked him to put them in writing.

Repeating a theme of the defense, that others also didn't report Frazier's inappropriate behavior to the state, Brett McIntosh, Kane's attorney, asked Rinder if he had called the child abuse hotline -- and if he hadn't called, if he had been arrested.

"I broke no laws," Rinder responded.

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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