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Police report on toe-popping incident draws scrutiny



TAMPA – Did police find any indicators of abuse during their investigation of the King High School assistant principal who squeezed students’ toes for earning poor grades?

The subject came up at last Tuesday’s televised meeting of the Hillsborough County School Board, after several citizens objected to the district’s handling of the case.

As readers have pointed out in numerous blog posts, calls, and letters, the conversation that followed has called into question a central element of the St. Petersburg Times' coverage of that investigation.

School Board attorney Tom Gonzalez told the audience and board members that investigators had found “no indicators of abuse” in the case.

In the interest of clarity, here is a brief review of what the Times reported, along with a few key documents:

Neither the school district nor assistant principal Olayinka Alege deny that he did, in fact, squeeze or “pop” the bare toes of at least five boys. It happened on multiple occasions in his office, behind closed doors, between last spring and his appointment to the position in 2007.

No criminal charges were filed in the case, and Alege was not disciplined. But district officials told him to never do it again.

Alege told the Times he was “just playing around” with the boys, whom he was mentoring. According to police reports, the students said the toe-pulling didn’t hurt, but they didn’t like it, either.

The incidents came to light on May 7, after a report was made to the state’s confidential child abuse hotline. Two parallel investigations by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office followed.

After consulting with the state attorney’s office, a school resource officer concluded the incidents did not amount to battery.

But a separate inquiry by the Child Protective Investigations Division of the Sheriff’s Office went in a different direction.

Here is what the Times wrote on July 24 about that second probe:

“(Investigator Arturo) Auza, the child protective investigator, closed his case with a finding of ‘some indicators’ of threatened harm or abuse. In a June 23 letter, the Sheriff's Office reported that finding to the school district's office of professional standards."

Here is the full quotation from the Child Protective Investigations report dated June 23, along with a link to that document:

“The report was closed with some indicators of abuse, neglect or abandonment.”

And here is what board attorney Gonzalez said at last Tuesday's meeting:

“In that case there were no indicators of abuse that were found in that investigation.”

Summary reports from the school district's office of professional standards at first resembled those of the Sheriff's Office. But on Friday, they were revised.

Here is a quotation from the initial report issued by director Linda A. Kipley, who closed the case on June 23 with the notation “no further action”:

“On 6/22/09, writer spoke with CPI Auza. He advised that he closed his case with Some Indicators for threatened harm.”

On Friday, Kipley's office released a copy of that document, along with what the district described as a "corrected report":

"On 6/22/09, writer spoke with CPI Auza. He advised that he closed his case with No Indicators for threatened harm; however, Some Indicators for unusual behavior."

But spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the district has not received any further documents from the Sheriff's Office revising its initial report. The district has requested a clarification of its conclusions, she said.

Lt. Rick Hernandez, a spokesman for the Child Protective Investigations Division of the Sheriff’s Office, would not discuss the specifics of the case.

He said the term "some indicators of abuse" typically means that investigators have found some evidence that suggests the possibility of abuse, but not enough to prove such a charge under state law.

"What I can tell you is 'some indicators' is kind of like a middle ground," Hernandez said. "Obviously something occurred."

School district officials say they consider the matter closed.

-- Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:32am]


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