Faller found guilty in Frazier scandal trial; Kane acquitted

jdeleon@bradenton.comJune 19, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Former Manatee High School assistant principal Gregg Faller on Tuesday was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspicions of child abuse by former assistant football coach Rod Frazier.

But Judge Peter Dubensky acquitted Faller of a felony charge of failing to report, and acquitted former assistant principal Matthew Kane of both charges.

Dubensky sentenced Faller to one day of non-reporting probation and ordered him to pay court costs.

A day earlier, Dubensky also acquitted former principal Robert Gagnon.

Investigators argued Gagnon, Faller and Kane had been told of the allegations Frazier inappropriately touched students and then failed to report it the state child abuse hotline.

All three former administrators, who were charged last summer, are fighting to get their jobs back with the Manatee County School District.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Schools Superintendent Rick Mills declined to comment on the verdicts, but said they would have no effect on whether the defendants can return to the district.

"The school district's investigation of Mr. Gagnon, Mr. Faller and Mr. Kane was based on allegations of employee misconduct, which violated school district policies and procedures. There is no correlation between the disposition of the criminal cases and the district's internal investigation or the administrative hearings resulting from those findings," Mills stated.

Dubensky was brief Wednesday, but he did share some of his reasoning when rendering his verdicts for Faller and Kane.

"There was just some uncertainty based on the information he (Kane) received and the manner that he received it, that he should have had reasonable grounds to believe that there was child abuse," Dubensky said. "With respect to Mr. Faller, the situation is different. Mr. Faller found himself in the position of being the one that was most advised about Mr. Frazier's activities."

Dubensky said Faller had been aware of several reported incidents involving Frazier, such as when he inappropriately touched a student at a local bar.

"That incident, in and of itself, could be considered child abuse," Dubensky said.

Additionally, Faller had knowledge of what Dubensky said he could best describe as "Frazier's adolescent behavior," such as taking students out of class and placing water bottles between their legs.

Faller and his attorney had no comment after the verdict.

After he was found not guilty of all charges, Kane said he had mixed emotions.

"I feel we should have all been found not guilty," Kane said. "For me, I feel vindicated a little, I feel like I got my name back somewhat, but not completely, today."

Despite what Mills said in his statement, former school district attorney John Bowen said the outcome of the criminal trial could have an effect on the defendants' careers with Manatee schools.

"Those judges may consider the outcome in the criminal proceedings," Bowen said.

With the school year at an end, though, the three no longer have a contract. Bowen is not optimistic they will get their jobs back.

"It's up to the superintendent to recommend employment, and the superintendent will not be inclined to do," Bowen said. "This was part of an effort to clean house after he came."

Kane's administrative hearing will resume Tuesday as he moves forward with his appeal to get his job back, although he indicated Wednesday he doesn't know if he still wants it. Gagnon and Faller are awaiting a recommended order from their respective hearing officers.

The Manatee County School Board will have the final say on whether they are rehired.

After the mixed verdicts, Assistant State Attorney Dawn Buff said it has been a long 16 months for all involved in the investigation of Frazier and the others.

Frazier was sentenced to six months house arrest and one year probation in April after he pleaded no contest to four counts of battery and two counts of interference with students' attendance involving improper contact with students and other staffers at Manatee High.

"We are satisfied that we presented all of the evidence, we trust the judicial process and we respect the court's decisions," Buff said. "Although we do believe we have enough evidence to show that people were aware of Frazier's actions and those actions rose to the level and that they should have been reported."

Throughout the trial, the defense questioned why their clients had been charged, and why other teachers and staff at Manatee High were not.

Buff said Gagnon, Faller and Kane, as administrators, were ultimately responsible for reporting the possible abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

"The purpose of the statute is so the information gets to DCF to do an investigation, because we can't count on agencies to police themselves and them to make that determination and call," Buff said. "Our feeling was they (other employees) did make an effort to get the information to the right person, and really the buck stops at the administration."

The school district also tried to fire its former attorney, Scott Martin, but he resigned before the school board could vote. Martin, who oversaw the school district investigation of Frazier, was not criminally charged in the case.

"A lot more things came out about Mr. Martin in the trials and the administrative hearings that we really didn't know originally," Buff said. "I am saddened and disappointed that Mr. Martin directed (former school district investigator Debra) Horne not to interview any students."

Horne was also charged in the case, but she avoided trial by agreeing to enter a pre-trial intervention program.

During her closing arguments, Buff said Faller and Kane had a continuous duty to report the allegations against Frazier, and that the entirety of the allegations were brought to their attention when the school district received a letter about Frazier's behavior from a student in January 2013. Again, they failed to report it, she said.

"This wasn't taken care of in an appropriate way," Buff said. "The appropriate way to take care of it was to call the hotline."

Brett McIntosh, who represents Kane, said during his closing arguments there was not willful blindness in this case.

"I think everyone here can put Frazier up as the poster child for what shouldn't happen in schools and that a teacher should never do," McIntosh said.

Defense witnesses testified Wednesday they did not recall many of the allegations presented by the prosecution, and even denied some of the allegations completely.

For example, the defense's first witness, Danielle Kaddatz, said that a much-described incident in which Kaddatz was seen sitting on Frazier's lap and feeding him cake did not occur the way Manatee High teacher Jacqueline Peebles described it in her testimony on Tuesday.

Peebles testified she reported the cake-eating incident to Kane and later, following a separate incident, to Faller.

Manatee High parent liaison Stephen Gulash testified Tuesday he witnessed Frazier placing a water bottle between Kaddatz's legs as she was walking after a softball game.

Kaddatz testified there were other incidents similar to what Gulash described, but she did recall one identical to what he said he reported to Faller and Kane.

Christina Holmes, a former Manatee High student who another student said had an exchange with Frazier about throwing a lingerie party, testified that conversation never happened.

During cross-examination, Assistant State Attorney Ashley Dusnik questioned her about her use of cocaine and other drugs while in school, perhaps affecting her memory.

"No, I don't think so, not in high school," Holmes said.

She did confirm she had a texting relationship with Frazier and he had once invited her to a hotel.

-- Kate Irby, Herald online reporter, contributed to this report.

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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