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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Report: Hernando coach touched student sexually

BROOKSVILLE -- At least one Hernando High School student has claimed that former coach Eric Riggins touched her in a sexual manner on two occasions, according to investigative documents released Thursday by the school district.

Riggins, 31, resigned May 5 from his job as classroom aide and assistant coach for track and football, amid reports of a criminal investigation into possible inappropriate contact with students.

Just three days earlier, Hernando Schools officials had recommended his firing, according to documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times under state open records laws.

That recommendation was made following a two-week school district investigation into reports that Riggins had sent sexually suggestive text messages to a student, and that he had visited students' hotel rooms during a night of post-prom partying in Clearwater. Riggins was initially suspended with pay during that investigation. Another coach involved in the prom night incident, Brent Mobley, was fired April 21.

According to the documents, Riggins first touched the student in February during an in-school suspension hall he was overseeing at the school.

"On the day when I had ISS, for dress code (violation) on 2/21/08, Coach Riggins had asked me if I was a virgin and I told him yes," the student wrote. "At the end of the school day I was the last one to leave ISS and he touched me inappropriately. He reached around from the back of me on the left side and reached under my skirt and touched my private parts. I then left ISS."

The student said he touched her in the same way in a storage room near the athletic fields, and made sexually suggestive comments in an evening phone call. In each case she discouraged his advances, hanging up the phone following the inappropriate comments, she said.

Riggins could not be reached for comment Thursday. But his attorney, Laguerra G. Champagne, has told the Hernando Today newspaper that he denies any wrongdoing.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office has refused to confirm or deny whether it is investigating Riggins. But Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association union, said deputies have interviewed dozens of students and many teachers as part of a criminal investigation.

Riggins was arrested in 1998 on a charge of burglary with assault, after forcing his way into a former girlfriend's home and threatening to kill her, according to court documents. He eventually pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, and was sentenced to five years' probation with adjudication withheld.

He was also arrested in 2000 on charges of trying sell marijuana to an undercover deputy, but charges were dropped due to a witness problem.

That record initially prompted the Florida Department of Education to deny Riggins' application for a coaching certificate, but in 2007 he was given a provisional certificate under a settlement agreement. He was first hired in Hernando in 2003, serving as an aide at the alternative school and coaching at Nature Coast Technical High.

For more details, go to tampabay.com or read  tomorrow's St. Petersburg Times.

-- Tom Marshall, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:42am]

    

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