Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Record does not say why video request denied on Sebastian Middle School incident

SJCSO: Nothing criminal depicted in video of Sept. 16 incident at Sebastian Middle School
Posted: October 6, 2015 - 8:49pm | Updated: October 7, 2015 - 8:11am

A report released Tuesday by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office explains what occurred between a student and three staff members at Sebastian Middle School on Sept. 16.

Investigated were Peter Sharman, dean of students; Robert O’Shell, physical education teacher; and Jarrod Branco, paraprofessional and boys’ and girls’ volleyball coach.

An interaction between the three staff members and the student in question occurred in the school cafeteria and was captured in about seven minutes and 41 seconds of surveillance footage reviewed by the Sheriff’s Office.

“On our side, there’s nothing that we see in the video that’s criminal,” Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan, spokesman for Sheriff’s Office, said on Tuesday.

According to deputy Andrew M. Huskey’s investigative narrative, dated Sept. 30, students in the cafeteria on Sept. 16 were making loud noises, which was addressed by Sharman, who blew his whistle and instructed the students to quiet down.

Some students, including the student in question, continued making noises at which point Sharman instructed that student to leave the cafeteria, the report continued.

The student stood up and began questioning why he had to leave, and Sharman then instructed all students to exit the cafeteria, the report said.

Sharman also requested to have the school’s Youth Resource Deputy respond to the cafeteria and learned the deputy was not on campus at that time.

Sharman then requested assistance from O’Shell and Branco in removing the student from the cafeteria, according to the report.

“The wheelchair was requested by Dean Sharman to assist in transporting the child out of the cafeteria and into another room,” Huskey’s report continues.

The student still did not comply with instructions to leave the cafeteria at which point Sharman and Jarrod (Branco) attempted to seat the student in the wheelchair, according to the report.

“(The student) physically resisted and was ‘putting up a fight,’” the report continued.

Sharman, Branco and O’Shell then escorted the student from the cafeteria to a room near the cafeteria via the hallway, according to the report.

Shortly after moving into the next room, Youth Resource Deputy Sammy Whitfield arrived on the scene, the report said.

The student was later released to a family member.

According to Whitfield’s initial narrative, dated Sept. 16, no charges were filed on the student, although the student was suspended for 10 days from the school.

Nobody in witness statements said the three employees acted inappropriately.

A list of 10 witnesses included the school’s assistant principal, Ted Banton, and two guidance counselors.

The St. Johns County School District on Sept. 23 recommended termination of employment for all three staff members following its investigation into a complaint filed by a parent regarding treatment of a student on Sept. 16.

Sharman has been employed with the school district since 1989; O’Shell since 2000; and Branco since 2013.

Superintendent Joe Joyner released the following statement on Tuesday: “These employees are not charged with a crime but rather professional misconduct including excessive force against a student.”

Each of the three employees had received two letters from the school district via hand-delivery as a result of the school district’s investigation.

The first letter, dated Sept. 18, informed each of his suspension with pay “due to the alleged aggressive behavior used while handling a student.”

The second letter, dated Sept. 23, was a notice of intention to recommend termination of employment.

As written in each of those letters, “you engaged in inappropriate behavior during an interaction with a student in the school cafeteria.”

As written in the letters sent to Sharman and O’Shell, “the proposed termination of your employment is due to immorality, misconduct in office, and incompetency ... ”

“I in know (sic) way agree with any of the above,” wrote Sharman in his acknowledgment of the letter.

The letter sent to Branco reads: “It is the Superintendent’s opinion that your termination would be for cause.”

Employees were also informed they will continue to receive paid suspension until the next regular meeting of the St. Johns County School Board, on Oct. 13, “at which time the Superintendent intends to recommend to the St. Johns County School Board that your employment with the St. Johns County School District be terminated.”

The Record requested a copy of the surveillance video from both the Sheriff’s Office and the school district; both requests were denied.

Mulligan said the school district was still the custodian of that record.

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