Palmetto charter principal maintains he didn’t know former teacher was facing charges

Lincoln Memorial Academy Principal Eddie Hundley defended himself during a contentious six-hour long administrative hearing to determine whether he gave false information or mislead Sarasota school officials when he recommended for a job a former employee who was under criminal investigation for inappropriate contact with girls.

The Florida Department of Education is seeking to have sanctions imposed against Hundley and take away his teaching certificate, because of the alleged misconduct when he provided former teacher at Lincoln, Quentin Peterson, with a recommendation.

Peterson was removed in May 2017 from Lincoln Middle School, which has since become a charter school named Lincoln Memorial Academy, when the Palmetto Police Department and Manatee County School District began to investigate an allegation that he was having an inappropriate relationship with a student. This was the third time Peterson had been investigated for inappropriate contact with a student.

As charges loomed against him, Peterson, who was on paid leave, resigned from the school district in September 2017 and later that month got a job as a substitute teacher with the Sarasota County School District. Hundley provided a glowing recommendation for Peterson at the time, and again in February 2018, which helped Peterson secure a permanent position at Booker High School.

Choosing not to have an attorney present, Hundley’s questioned the state’s witnesses himself and later spoke on his own behalf during the hearing Wednesday.

“There has been a great amount of confusion as to what took place under my supervision at my school and prior to the recommendation. There has been great confusion as to the validity of the cases under my supervision and the current case that is pending,” Hundley said.

But it became apparent to the administrative law judge during his questioning of Palmetto Chief of Police Scott Tyler that Hundley did not understand that the case involving a third allegation from a Lincoln student is the same case in which Peterson is now facing criminal charges. The judge interrupted Hundley to tell him he was wrong and to explain the legal process he was not understanding.

“They started this investigation based on the complaint of a Lincoln student. As a result of that investigation they discovered another underage child or student. ... It’s based on those pictures or documentation or whatever the Palmetto Police Department were able to obtain through a valid search warrant that the case against Mr. Peterson is going forward,” Judge Lynne A. Quimby-Pennock said.

The investigation into that allegation gave police enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant and seize electronics from Peterson’s home. Images of Peterson with another underage girl found on his devices ultimately led to the criminal charges Peterson is now facing.

“You cannot get Chief Tyler to say that the case involving the Lincoln student is closed because it is not,” the judge said.

Tyler and several Manatee County School District officials all testified about their various conversations with Hundley. They each said Hundley knew the criminal case against Peterson was still open, pornographic pictures of Peterson with an underage girl had been found, that the case was being sent to the State Attorney’s Office and that he was not permitted back on campus.

“References were given and those answers were given because that’s what my belief was at that time. There are a lot of assumptions made after the fact. There are reports that have been generated after the fact and the district cannot provide any documentation or report regarding my involvement in this case with Mr. Peterson simply because I wasn’t,” Hundley said. “This has been made about me and my charter school and I feel as though I am being scapegoated.”

The judge several times told Hundley to stop testifying during his cross examination of the state’s witnesses and to stop asking irrelevant questions about what others involved knew and did about it.

The Florida Department of Education’s attorney, Ron Weaver, questions Sarasota County School Superintendent Todd Bowden during a hearing over a complaint of misconduct that alleges Lincoln Memorial Academy Principal Edide Hundley provided false information or mislead the district when he recommended a former teacher who was under criminal investigation. Jessica De Leon jdeleon@bradenton.com

Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden and Laurie Breslin, assistant principal at Booker High School at time Peterson was hired, both testified that Peterson would not have been hired had the district known of the pending allegations against him.

“You had information that I believe should have caused you to come the opinion that he could no longer work with school kids, that he was not fit, that you should not rehire him, that he had in fact been reprimanded before,” Bowden said. “So that to me is the reason we are here. That is the heart of the whole case.”

In what appeared to contradict his defense that he didn’t know about the pending charges against him, Hundley asked Breslin what he should have reported to her given Peterson had not been fired, arrested nor had any findings of misconduct sustained. While the administrator agreed unfounded investigations could be inappropriate to share, she said she would not have provided a recommendation given the previous pattern and the open case.

During her testimony, Breslin also said Hundley claimed Peterson had never been disciplined even though he did have a letter of reprimand as a result of the second investigation. Hundley had also corroborated Peterson’s claim that he had left the Manatee school district because he relocated for personal reasons, she explained.

“I believe there was information that wasn’t shared,” Breslin said. “I don’t know the depth of it.”

Hundley and the Florida Board of Education’s attorney will have 10 days to file recommended orders in the case, and then the administrative judge will have 30 days to file her order.

Meanwhile, Peterson is set to stand trial in Bradenton next month on one count of possession of child pornography.

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