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Sex and the School District

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AT TATE HIGH SCHOOL
By RICK OUTZEN

“Momma, pray for me. Momma, pray for me.  I’m going to throw up.”

That’s what the Tate High School student told his mother over his cell phone on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 1. He was scared and nauseous having watched an older classmate force a 14-year-old girl to perform oral sex while the suspect’s buddies laughed and blocked the teacher’s view. The boy was calling his mother from the school bathroom.

According to her son, he heard Raymond Teamer, 16, tell the victim that she was going to suck his penis. She said, “Yeah, right. Not in this lifetime.” Then the witness looked over and he saw her head in Teamer’s crotch with his hand on her neck and head forcing the girl on to his genitals. The girl had her hand on a computer desk and a chair trying to get up, but Teamer was too strong, according to the boy.

Teamer finally let her up to breathe. The girl was coughing, gagging and spitting. The witness told his mother that he saw fear and helplessness in the victim’s eyes as Teamer forced her back down on him. Finally she got away and ran to the bathroom. The older boys laughed at her as she left the room, asking her why her hair was messed up.

The mother shared this after the IN agreed to protect her and her son’s identities. She was worried about retaliation against her son. Teamer was arrested Monday, March 14 on the charges of second-degree sexual battery and indecent exposure. On Friday, March 18, he was denied bond and held over for trial in juvenile court on April 13.

The tale of why it took nearly two weeks to arrest the suspect is almost a controversial as the crime itself. Cover-ups don’t sit well in Escambia County, especially when children are involved.

Under Florida law, school officials are required to report allegations of sexual battery to law enforcement. Instead, Tate officials conducted their own investigation, concluded the sex act was consensual and suspended both the suspect and the victim.

It wasn’t until the witness’s mother got frustrated with how Tate High Principal Richard Shackle was handling the possible assault that she contacted the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office late Thursday, March 3.

Capt. Dale Tharp, who supervises the school resource officers (SRO), spoke to the mother the next day and had SRO Deputy Bobby Small file a report on the incident.

Later, when questioned by reporters, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said the SRO had been told by the school of the possible assault on Wednesday, March 2. The attack on the deputy made Sheriff David Morgan furious, who made it clear to the local media that only a vague passing remark about a possible “sexual incident” had been made at the end of the day before Small went off duty. Small spent the next day on patrol and nothing was said to the school’s other resource officer while administrators were questioning students.

SCHOOL BUNGLES INVESTIGATION
According to the mother of the witness, the school’s investigation of the incident was poorly handled. When she got off the phone with her son on March 1, the mother said that the hair stood up on the back of her neck.

“I immediately called the school guidance officer and told them that I needed them to get my son out of class and to call home immediately,” she told me. The boy told her that he hung up because he was scared of Teamer and his friends.
“You don’t understand, mom. These guys are scary.” The boy gave more details of the assault but then hung up again, afraid someone might overhear him.

The mother called back and talked to the guidance counselor. “Something happened in my son’s fourth-period class. I need to talk with the teacher…it was a sexual assault,” the mother told the counselor. After sher heard the mother’s story, the teacher told her that she had to inform Ms. Terry Colburn, the assistant principal. Colburn then called the mother.

“I spill my guts to Ms. Colburn,” she told me. The mother gave Colburn the names of victim and the suspect. She agreed to call the assistant principal back after she learned more from her son when he got on the bus.
The son called from the bus and gave more details. “Momma, if you tell, I’m going to get beaten up,” the boy told his mother. “Who will believe me? It’s that boy and his two friends. They were laughing while he was doing it.”

She got all the names and called Colburn back and gave her the details.

That evening she sat down with her son and made him tell and retell what happened.

“I drilled him like an interrogator would,” she told the IN. “I didn’t want to know anything but the truth.”

That same night, Principal Richard Shackle notified his direct supervisor, Carolyn Spooner, the district’s director of high school education. No one at the school called the victim’s mother.

The next morning, Wednesday, March 2, the witness’s mother called Ms. Colburn and told her, “These are the details completely and totally. I want to be straight up with you. My son is scared to death. I need you to guarantee me that you’re going to protect my son.”

Then Dean David Venettozzi called her, and according to the mother, he said that he had talked to the kids, and that no one, including her son, admitted to anything happening in the classroom.

She told him, “Dean Venettozzi, my son is lying to you. He’s scared to death. You need to go and question every one of them. This is what happened…” The mother proceeded to tell the dean what happened. “I realized that this was the first time that he had actually heard what had gone on.”

The mother confronted her son when he came home. He admitted to lying the first time and said that Teamer had been telling students in the class what to tell the dean. The second time he was interviewed he said that he told most of what he saw.

The boy was called in yet a third time to give a written statement. Teamer was sitting inside Dean Venettozzi’s office when he walked up. The boy told his mother that he felt sick. “I felt like I was going to throw up.” The witness went into

Dean Greg Blackmon’s office, where he wrote about a seven-line statement on the sexual assault, according to the mother.

On Thursday, March 3, the mother called Principal Shackle to find out what was going on. She told the IN that Shackle was vague and defensive. She asked if the victim had been suspended. Frustrated over her son’s safety, treatment of the victim and what she perceived as lack of concern by the principal, she called the ECSO that evening.

On Monday, March 7, ECSO sex crimes investigator Vannessa Carmona went to Tate High School. Venettozzi told her that word had come from “downtown” that administrators couldn’t speak with her. Although Deputy Superintendent

Norm Ross later told Capt. Tharp no such directive had come from the district headquarters, it would be another week before Carmona would interview Shackle, Colburn and Venettozzi.

The Sheriff’s Office came to a completely different conclusion than Tate officials. Three witnesses in the classroom admitted to Carmona that Teamer had exposed his penis in class. All had observed the victim’s face in his crotch and that it appeared as if she was performing oral sex on him.

The victim said she hadn’t told the faculty what had occurred because she feared retaliation from Teamer and his friends.

Teamer admitted that he exposed his himself because the victim asked him to do it and that she willingly performed oral sex on him. He was arrested March 14 after he gave these statements.

TREATMENT OF VICTIM
The mother of the victim told WEAR TV 3 that she didn’t know about the incident until two days after it occurred. According to the mother, Venettozzi told her that the school had statements from witnesses that the sex was consensual. Despite the mother’s protestations that her daughter had been forced, the school suspended the girl and told her that the suspension might extend to the remainder of the semester.

Under Florida law, lewd or lascivious battery occurs when a person engages in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age. Neither the victim’s lack of chastity nor the victim’s consent is a defense to the crime.

The school district didn’t end her daughter’s suspension until three days after the suspect was arrested.

The mother of the witness eventually made contact with the victim’s mother. She learned that the victim’s mother had repeatedly tried to reach Superintendent Thomas, but he didn’t return her calls. When he finally took her call, Thomas was abrupt and giving her little time to ask questions, according to the mother.

According to Florida Department of Education database of crime incidents on campuses, Tate High has a weak record for reporting sexual offenses to law enforcement. For 2009-2010, DOE was notified of two sexual offenses at the school.

Neither was reported to law enforcement.

Across Florida, public schools reported last year 1,341 sex offenses to DOE, of which 84 percent were turned over to law enforcement. The Escambia School District only reported 18 percent of its sex offenses to law enforcement for the same period.

After ECSO released documents showing how Tate officials hampered the investigation, Thomas told the media that he would conduct his own investigation into how the school handled the incident. He gave no deadline for when his investigation would be completed or if its findings would be published.

The victim has been threatened on several local websites and has yet to return to school. The boy who reported the sexual battery lives in fear of retaliation.

rick@inweekly.net