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Job of acquitted Pasco teacher is still on the line

Antonio "Tony" Vasquez walked into a Hernando County courtroom Monday morning tarnished — accused of a lewd crime.

At the end of the day, the Pasco County teacher and longtime basketball coach left feeling vindicated, his innocence affirmed by a jury of his peers.

But Vasquez's renewed reputation might not matter in the eyes of school officials. To them, the allegations could speak louder than the verdict.

"Teachers are held to different standards than the court" uses, said Renalia DuBose, the assistant superintendent for administration in Pasco County. "Our level of proof does not rise that high because we are putting people in charge of other people's children."

The Pasco County School Board suspended Vasquez after his arrest in July 2007 on charges he exposed himself to an undercover Brooksville police officer in a park bathroom. Vasquez also relinquished his plans to coach boys basketball at Hernando High School the next season.

In an interview Tuesday, he expressed anger about being charged.

"I'm glad that it's over, but at the same time, I'm very frustrated that it took so long for this to come to a conclusion," he said. "But I'm a high-profile case.''

Vasquez said that someone in the State Attorney's Office — he doesn't know who — told him that the office was adamant in wanting to prosecute him on the misdemeanor charge, adding, "We want your job.''

"Those words still ring in my ears,'' he said.

Vasquez was arrested as part of a police sting investigating complaints about inappropriate sexual activity in the bathrooms at Bud McKethan Park in downtown Brooksville.

The case against Vasquez relied on the testimony of Officer Shawn Terry, who staked out the bathroom in plainclothes. On the witness stand, Terry relayed remarks Vasquez allegedly made.

A wireless device in place to record the conversation didn't work.

The jury ultimately didn't believe Terry and, lacking any physical evidence of the alleged crime, acquitted Vasquez in an hour.

"I think it's unfortunate … the allegations are more damaging" than the outcome, said Larry Disparti, Vasquez's attorney.

Vasquez said those who know him didn't believe what they heard about the arrest.

"Nobody in my community believed it when it came out," he said. "My family didn't believe it. My friends don't believe it. That's why I'm really upset. … I really don't understand why the School Board (suspended me)."

If Vasquez seeks reinstatement, DuBose said, the district will review the materials from the criminal case. A professional standards committee would then make a recommendation about his future employment, and the ultimate decision would be made by the superintendent and the School Board.

Also, the state Department of Education could take action against his teaching license, she said.

DuBose said it was premature to make a judgment on which direction the district might go. But she said the recent spate of investigations into inappropriate conduct by teachers brings caution.

"Lack of criminal culpability does not automatically qualify you for a job with a school district," she said. "Definitely in the climate we are working in, you have to be particularly careful."

Vasquez said he feels this pressure but said the district should carefully consider the verdict.

"How they make their judgment because they have a higher standard than the law allows, well, I don't know about that," he said. "I think the Constitution was here long before the School Board."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Job of acquitted Pasco teacher is still on the line 04/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 6:23pm]
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