LARGO — Minutes after he was convicted of two sex offenses that could send him to prison for 30 years, former school resource officer Todd Pierce stood before a judge, raised his hand and said, "excuse me."
But before he could say what was on his mind, the tall, beefy former deputy sheriff and boot camp drill instructor collapsed to the floor. Bailiffs helped him up, fingerprinted him and led him to the jail where he once worked.
Pierce was once a popular figure at Osceola and Dixie Hollins high schools. As a school resource officer with the Pinellas Sheriff's Office, he was part cop and part mentor — someone whose job called for him to build rapport with students and offer them guidance.
But prosecutors said he used that role to groom a girl for sex.
The young woman, now 23, testified that Pierce fondled her in areas of Osceola High School where he knew there were no surveillance cameras.
"He knew exactly where he could meet with her and touch her and no one would ever know," Assistant State Attorney Holly Grissinger said.
The young woman said she was scared by his advances but told no one because "he knows how to manipulate you."
Then in September 2001, Pierce drove to her house on a day she was home alone sick. Ostensibly, Pierce came over to take a statement from her about a fire on campus she had witnessed. But once inside, she said, he performed oral sex on her and they had intercourse.
Prosecutors said the incident occurred about a week before her 16th birthday in 2001. But the defense said that day actually was after her 16th birthday — significant because Pierce was charged with lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 16. Defense attorney John Swisher cited that as one reason the state had not proven its case.
"There's absolutely no physical evidence that Deputy Pierce touched" her, Swisher said.
The allegations did not come to light until years later, when someone called authorities with a tip about Pierce's behavior.
Jurors also heard testimony from another woman, who is now 28, who said Pierce had intercourse with her when she was just 14 and Pierce was dating her mother. He was never charged in that case. But prosecutors were allowed to bring in that testimony to show Pierce had a pattern of grooming teenage girls for sex.
Pierce is scheduled to be sentenced April 27. He faces up to 30 years in prison.