Ex-Tampa Prep swim coach pleads guilty to voyeurism, gets five years behind bars

Former Tampa Prep swim coach Kimberly Brabson will also have to serve five years of probation and be treated as a sex offender, though he won’t officially be labeled as one.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Former Tampa Prep swim coach Kimberly Brabson will also have to serve five years of probation and be treated as a sex offender, though he won’t officially be labeled as one.

TAMPA — The girls respected him. Their fathers trusted him.

But behind closed doors at Tampa Preparatory School, swim coach Kimberly Brabson III secretly videotaped nude girls as they tried on bathing suits.

The episode drew in prominent Tampa families who filed lawsuits and fought to pass legislation guaranteeing harsher penalties for voyeurism.

On Thursday, six years after it all began, the criminal portion of the case concluded with a punishment for Brabson:

Five years in jail. Five years of probation. Sex offender treatment, but not a formal designation. He will never teach again.

"The breach of trust, the invasion of privacy that I committed against these young women goes far beyond anything that I can ever truly be sorry for," said Brabson, 33. "I never meant to hurt anyone."

But he did, said Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe. "These young ladies will live with this for the rest of their lives."

The news broke in January 2007. Complaints that Brabson had asked girls to try on swimsuits led to his firing and a police investigation. Authorities uncovered the camera and the tape.

It showed 19 girls, ages 12 to 17, in various stages of nudity. And it captured their coach, adjusting the camera equipment. Prosecutors said he had begun filming them in 2005. He made more tapes but erased them before he got caught, his attorney said. The sole tape survived because he did not rewind far enough.

He had no criminal record when he was arrested for 10 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism. He had a pregnant wife and a toddler.

Championship medals went in drawers. Girls no longer wanted to swim. In the months that followed, one was hospitalized with anorexia, her father testified.

Their parents and attorneys began to seek justice, and the journey was long.

In addition to the misdemeanors, prosecutors later charged Brabson with 19 felony counts of promotion of a sexual performance of a minor.

Brabson's attorney, Eddie Suarez, moved to dismiss the charges, saying the video did not show sexual performance, and Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett dismissed the counts.

But the state appealed, and the felony charges stuck as the case headed to trial this fall. But there were problems with the evidence. A respected forensic gynecologist who saw the videos said what was depicted did not, by law, constitute genitalia.

To prove the felony charges, prosecutors knew they needed to prove actual lewd exhibition of genitals. They had videos of girls' buttocks and breasts, but only in one case was a girl's genitalia exposed, and she did not want to proceed.

Meanwhile, 10 lawsuits against the coach and the school were stalled in civil court because Brabson, who had a right not to incriminate himself, could not be interviewed.

An attorney speaking for 10 victims, now college-age women, sent prosecutors a letter saying they wanted the case resolved.

On Thursday, Brabson stood before the judge with a tight face, appearing on the verge of tears.

The terms of the deal had been decided. Brabson would plead guilty to the misdemeanors and the state would drop the felonies.

But the sentence was up to Judge Tharpe, who considered a range from probation to 364 days in county jail for each charge, with the option of imposing the terms consecutively, to add up to 10 years.

Brabson's family asked the judge to consider his two boys, now 3 and 6, and what it would do to have them lose their father. His therapist said that he will always be a voyeur — there is no cure for his disorder — but that he has excelled in treatment.

One victim, who wrote a letter, disagreed: "I am convinced he will do it again. The damage this situation has caused me is immeasurable." She asked for the maximum sentence.

The St. Petersburg Times is not naming victims or parents because of the nature of the crime.

Three fathers who spoke also wanted to see Brabson behind bars.

"I was at almost every swim meet," one said, crying. "Why didn't I see it? Why didn't I protect my daughter from this person?"

When it came time for the judge to speak, he told Brabson, "Look at what you've done."

He said that he considered Brabson's sons and considered the victims, and that not everybody would be happy with his decision, but that he needed to send a message:

"This will not be tolerated."

In the future, others will face stiffer penalties than Brabson's five years in jail, thanks to a new law inspired by the Tampa Prep case. It would consider Brabson's conduct a third-degree felony, carrying a maximum prison sentence of five years for each charge.

With the case about to leave him for the civil realm, Tharpe wants to resolve one final matter: He will find all existing evidence copies of Brabson's videotape and have them destroyed.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Ex-Tampa Prep swim coach pleads guilty to voyeurism, gets five years behind bars 01/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 10:27pm]

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