BRADENTON – After completing an extensive investigation into allegations that a Manatee High football coach had engaged in illegal sexual contact with at least one student at the school, the Bradenton Police Department has asked the State Attorney's office to make multiple arrests of district employees involved in the case. Neither the BPD nor the State Attorney's Office would comment on specific employees or charges, and the district says it must wait until charges are filed before it can consider any actions to be taken regarding employees involved in the case.
“We gave the results of our investigation to the state's attorney's office weeks ago and with that were the capias requests,” said Bradenton Police Chief Mike Radzilowski. “What's being reported now is just a result of someone finding out about it. We don't comment on investigations we turn over to the State Attorney's office. It's in their hands.”
While Chief Radzilowski could not say which employees were the subject of those requests for arrests, or what charges were sought, he did note that the requests were the result of around 50 interviews of people at all levels of involvement and did not dispute employee reports that hard drives and laptops at the school had been seized in the process of the department's investigation.
At the center of the case is Manatee High assistant football coach Rod Frazier, who a student alleged had inappropriate contact with her while she was an underclassman at Manatee. Frazier, a Manatee alum who played football for the University of Florida and signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers before an injury ended his career, is the younger brother of former University of Nebraska football star Tommy Frazier. He coaches running backs for the Hurricanes' nationally-recognized football program and is also employed at the school as a "parent liaison."
Frazier had initially been put on administrative leave in November when other school personnel had voiced concerns over his conduct with multiple female students, but was reinstated after one day and a supposed internal investigation, just in time for the undefeated Hurricanes' first playoff game of the season. The team was under a national spotlight at the time, undefeated and ranked number one in the nation in virtually every high school poll.
Then in January, the aforementioned student came forward. Her mother told TBT that she hand delivered a letter to Manatee High School principal Don Sauer. The letter, which was released in a story by the Sarasota Herald Tribune (who first broke the story), alleged that Frazier had fondled the student on multiple occasions, touching her upper thighs and buttocks, hugging her and pulling her onto his lap when he would have her pulled out of class to come to his office, where she said she often hung out with Frazier and other students during classroom hours.
The student also alleged that Frazier would routinely text her, telling her he loved her and at one point requested that she send him a naked picture of herself. While she said she did not comply, she alleged that she was aware of at least one other female student who had sent the coach such a photo. She also claimed that at Frazier's request, she met with him at a park near her house, where he lifted her up by her buttocks after asking for a hug.
Despite the nature of the allegations in the letter, no one within the district made a call to the Department of Children and Families-monitored abuse hotline, as required by state law. Under those circumstances, the DCF would have referred the case to local law enforcement, who did not find out about the allegations until the story hit the press in February.
The Protection of Vulnerable Persons law requires that any school employee who suspects, witnesses or is made aware of allegations of child abuse report it to a hotline maintained by DCF within 24 hours. Not doing so subjects them to third-degree felony charges and is punishable by fines up to $5,000. According to DCF guidelines, the texting, some of the alleged dialog, and the touching of a child on the upper thighs or buttocks, would each constitute a mandatory report by anyone made aware of the allegations.
Lauren Book, founder and CEO of the Lauren's Kids Foundation, was one of the architects of the new state law and told TBT last month that this is exactly the sort of case the new legislation was meant to combat.
“This is the clearest example I can imagine, as to why the law was put in place,” said Book. “The law is very clear that teachers, principals and other employees who even have suspicions of a potential abuse situation are to call the state hotline – period. If there are allegations made, it is not the school's role to investigate whether or not something should be reported. That's what DCF exists for. They have the resources and trained professionals to investigate these matters that schools do not.”
Book explained that the new law supersedes any existing policies and said that each person within the district who saw the student's letter was obligated under the statute to report it to the state.
“Here you have a situation where this coach had been suspended in November over similar concerns,” said Book. “Whatever suspicions caused the school district to suspend and investigate him then, had to be reported to the state by law. For them to bring him back after one day and then not report when a student makes allegations of abuse a couple of months later is completely unacceptable. You have to put the children first.”
Citing sources close to the investigation, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported yesterday that Frazier, Assistant Superintendent Bob Gagnon and former Office of Professional Standards director Debbie Horne were among five district employees for whom arrests were being sought on charges that included battery, lying to police and failing to report allegations of child abuse. During the school district's internal investigation, Horne requested and received a transfer from OPS to an assistant principal position at an elementary school in the district.
The investigation was taken over by assistant superintendent Scott Martin and then shuttered once law enforcement became involved. At that point, school district attorney John Bowen made public statements in the press that despite the allegations in the letter, the district investigation had not uncovered anything that would have warranted reporting the allegations to the state.
Assistant State Attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit Dawn Buff, who is handling the case, said that the code of ethics prohibits the office from ever discussing details of a case that is part of an ongoing investigation. Buff explained that when a law enforcement agency completes a non-arrest investigation and turns it over to their office with a request for arrest warrants, they review the evidence and other investigation materials and also have the ability to investigate further, including subpoena authority, before deciding whether or not to pursue charges in the case.
“The state has a very high bar concerning ethics in such situations,” said Buff. “They don't want us trying a case in the press.”
When asked what might differentiate cases in which law enforcement made arrests prior to turning over a case to the State Attorney from ones that included capias requests, Buff said that there are many variables, but that time is often a factor.
“I think law enforcement recognizes that when they make an arrest it sets in motion a deadline for us,” said Buff. “We've then got 179 days in a felony case, or 89 days in a misdemeanor, to complete our investigation and decide whether to file charges. But there is a lot that they have to consider including whether they believe someone poses an immediate threat.”
Superintendent Rick Mills, who only joined the district two weeks ago and was actually in town interviewing for the position when the story broke, released the following statement following news of the capias requests:
"The school district’s highest priority is the safety and security of our students and employees. The Bradenton Police Department has conducted a full investigation into the Rod Frazier matter and will make whatever recommendation is deemed appropriate.
“However, we are also committed to treating our school district employees fairly and without judgment until the final outcome. Any recommendation that may be made by the Bradenton Police Department may or may not result in charges. Only the State Attorney’s office can make that determination.
“That said, we hope that the community will join us in reserving final judgment until all facts are revealed. If charges are eventually brought against any of our personnel, the District will take appropriate action which may include placing employees on administrative leave while the matter is processed through the judicial system.”
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