State makes its case against former Lincoln Middle School teacher charged with child porn

A hearing on whether a former Lincoln Memorial Middle School music teacher should be stripped of his teaching certificate centered Tuesday on whether he was the person seen kissing a 16-year-old girl in photos found on his electronic devices.

Quentin Peterson was removed from Lincoln Memorial Middle School in May 2017 after the Palmetto Police Department and the Manatee County School District had begun investigating allegations that he was having an inappropriate relationship with a student at the school. Peterson later resigned from the school in September 2017, while on paid administrative leave.

Within a month, Peterson got a job as a substitute teacher for the Sarasota County School District, and by February 2018 he was hired full-time at Booker High School. Peterson worked at Booker when he was arrested in April 2018 and charged with being in possession of child pornography in connection with photos of another 16-year-old girl found on Peterson’s lap top and cell phones.

Peterson was not present for the administrative hearing before Lynne A. Quimby-Pennock on Tuesday, held in the Manatee Judicial Center, during which the Florida Department of Education presented its case for why he should lose his educator’s certificate.

According to the state’s amended complaint, Peterson violated policies and code of ethics by having an inappropriate relationship with a student and by lying on his job application to Sarasota County schools.

Representing Petersen, attorney Branden Vicari called Peterson’s pastor and aunt to the stand. Each was asked whether they could identify Peterson as the man seen kissing the 16-year-old in a photo obtained by police..

“Not really … hard to tell from that side view,” said David Mazon, pastor at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church.

But when questioned by Ron Weaver on behalf of the state, he did identify it was Peterson in every other photo with the girl.

Peterson’s aunt, Pam Bellamy, firmly said it was not Peterson when presented with the same initial kissing photo. When questioned by Weaver, she denied it was her nephew in most of the photos, but she did identify Peterson in two of the other photos.

When questioning the state’s witnesses, Vicari asked whether investigators knew the context of the kiss.

“Do you know if it was a birthday kiss, a joke or a prank?” he asked Troy Nelson, the Manatee County School District Office of Professional Standards investigator.

Nelson said he did not.

Vicari asked former Palmetto police detective Chad Oyler similar questions about the kiss in the photo in question. Oyler also explained how most if not all of the photos came from Peterson’s lap top and Android cell phone, but he didn’t know when and where the photo in question was taken.

Oyler also testified about his interview with the girl’s mother, an employee at Lincoln, during the time of his investigation.

“She had wondered about it, and had her suspicions,” Oyler said. “But until we brought the stuff up to her in the case, that’s when she realized it was a fact.”

The state board of education altered its amended complaint after the administrative judge canceled a hearing scheduled for earlier this year, because some of the facts in the administrative case were also facts in the current pending criminal case against Peterson.

Peterston is set to stand trial next month.

According to the initial complaint, the state also intended to use photos said to be of Peterson in bed with the girl and nude photos the girl sent Peterson, as well as a text message to the girl from Peterson that read, “I love you.”

“There is a strong public interest in proceeding in the disciplinary case,” Weaver wrote when he sought to have the case reset for hearing with the proposed amended complaint. “The Respondent has a Florida educator’s certificate, which is valid through 2020. The Respondent is therefore licensed to apply for a teaching position in any school in Florida. It is the Petitioner’s position that the Respondent should not be a position of authority over children.”

In its amended complaint, the state added allegations that Peterson lied on his application with Sarasota schools when asked whether he had ever failed to fulfill a teaching contract, had disciplinary action taken against him by any board of education, been removed or dismissed from any position or resigned in lieu of termination.

Sarasota Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden and Sarasota Middle School principal Laurie Breslin, the former assistant principal at Booker, both testified about how Peterson lied on his application and during the entire interview process. Had they known that he was under criminal investigation, they testified they never would have hired Peterson.

Attorneys from both sides will have 10 days to file recommended orders in the case after they receive a transcript of Tuesday’s hearing. Judge Quimby-Pennock will then have 30 days to file her order.

Quimby-Pennock also presided over the administrative hearing that resulted in the revocation of former Lincoln principal Eddie Hundley’s certificate for providing Peterson a positive job recommendation with Sarasota County officials when he knew Peterson was under criminal investigation.

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Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.