Crime

Teacher accused of possessing child porn had been accused three times of touching students in Manatee

Quentin Peterson
Quentin Peterson

Quentin Andrew Peterson applied to work as a teacher in Sarasota on Sept. 22, 2017, just weeks after he resigned from a teaching position in Manatee County, where police and district officials investigated his possible relationship with a former student.

He met with authorities on May 24 of last year to face the accusations — a familiar process to someone who denied similar allegations in the past. The investigation led police to find sexual images of an underage girl on Peterson's electronics, leading to his arrest on two felony charges Tuesday, according to an arrest report.

As a former music teacher at Lincoln Memorial Middle School in Palmetto, Peterson, now 25, was accused of touching students on two separate occasions since 2016. He was also accused of touching another girl in 2012, before his teaching career began. The Palmetto Police Department deemed one case unsubstantiated, and officers dropped another case due to a lack of evidence. Investigators recommended a battery charge in the third case, but it was never pursued by prosecutors.

Eddie Hundley, the middle school principal, was present for two of the prior investigations, at one point calling an abuse hotline to report allegations against Peterson, according to incident reports from the police department. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

He went on to recommend Peterson for a teaching job with Sarasota County Public Schools. The principal checked "no" on a box that asked whether he had any reason to believe Peterson should not work with children.

On his own application, Peterson cited "family problems" as his reason for leaving the school, according to his Sarasota County personnel file.

Booker High School in Sarasota hired him as a math teacher on Feb. 28. He had already worked more than four months as a substitute teacher in the area, district spokeswoman Tracey Beeker said.

Beeker said the district checks the fingerprints of new teachers against a federal database. It also checks the teacher's state certification, and it uses the state's Professional Practice Services to see whether the teacher ever faced disciplinary action.

"To the best of our knowledge, we did not see Mr. Peterson in any of these three checkpoints," she said. "They serve a purpose, and that purpose is to make sure we're monitoring any new hires as much as we can."

Peterson had no criminal convictions, she said, and he had no disciplinary actions on his record. No actions were ever taken against his teacher certification, which expires in June 2020, according to the Florida Department of Education.

"He certainly won't be returning to class, and I believe that we'll conduct our own investigation as well to determine his future employment with the district," Beeker said.

The soundbooth

The first of the three prior incidents happened while Peterson was a student at the University of Florida.

Palmetto police accused Peterson, then 19, of touching a 16-year-old girl under her clothing while the two were alone in a soundbooth at Palmetto High School in 2012.

It happened during a concert at the school, according to a capias request from the police department.

Peterson later admitted to the accusations and apologized to the girl during a recorded phone call, the report states, and he allegedly confirmed the accusations in an interview with police.

"This occurred several times even after the victim repeatedly told him to stop," the report states.

Prosecutors later declined to file the recommended battery charge, according to newspaper archives.

The journal

A foster mother turned over her daughter's journal to Hundley at Lincoln Memorial in 2016.

Hundley called an abuse hotline and authorities soon reviewed the journal. The girl wrote that she had a crush on Peterson, and her entries accused the teacher of touching her rear end and trying to reach into her pants, according to an incident report from the police department.

In response, Peterson denied the allegations and said he felt uncomfortable around the girl. One teacher, at Peterson's request, would often check on his classroom, according to the report. The girl later told investigators that she fabricated the story.

"(She) stated that she frequently makes up stories and wants to be a writer when she is older," the report states.

The office

A Lincoln Memorial student accused Peterson of touching her thigh while they were alone in a dark office last year.

Investigators met with Hundley and Peterson to ask for his side of the story. He was accused of calling a girl into his office while the other students were watching a movie in the orchestra room, which connects to the office. Lights were turned off in both rooms during the movie, an incident report said.

Peterson allegedly got onto his knees and touched the girl's thigh before she quickly left the room and reported the incident.

Speaking with police, Peterson said he called the girl into his office because he "wanted to ask her about some candy that went missing from his desk," the report states. He said that several other students entered and left his office during the same time frame, and that he was never alone with the girl.

Investigators spoke with several students and got varying statements. Some students verified parts of Peterson's statement, while others said they saw him close the office door and stay inside with the girl for about 15 minutes.

"There are no video cameras in the classroom that would aid in determining a more accurate chain of events on that date," the police report states. "At this time, there is no way of proving that any contact by Peterson was made intentionally."

Pending charges

Peterson was released on a $50,000 bond Tuesday, the same day police charged him with possession of child pornography and unlawful sexual act with a minor.

The investigation that led to his arrest started more than 11 months ago.

The School District of Manatee County placed him on a temporary assignment on May 24 as investigators pursued his possible relationship with a former student at Lincoln Memorial. His new assignment continued as authorities seized Peterson's laptop and two phones on June 6, according to the district's report.

On Aug. 18, school officials placed Peterson on paid administrative leave after investigators found several nude photos of a different underage girl on the electronics, according to the report.

"They had several text message conversations between Peterson and her and a picture of them in bed together and another of them kissing," the report states.

The photos date back to 2016, when Peterson was 24 and the girl was 16. Peterson's attorney, Branden Vicari, met with school district attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum on Aug. 30, days before Peterson tendered his resignation to the school district.

Teitelbaum, speaking in a prepared statement on Thursday, said the allegations were reported to the state DOE on Sept. 27, and that DOE officials confirmed receipt of the notice on Oct. 10.

"Mr. Peterson resigned during an investigation of alleged misconduct and he expressly agreed never to seek reemployment at the School District of Manatee County," he said.

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