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Former Pinellas teacher's arrest on N.Y. rape charges stirs ugly memories

ST. PETERSBURG — Two years before he was accused of molesting a student at Bay Point Middle School and 17 years before his arrest this month in New York on charges he raped a 13-year-old girl, Michael Scaringe taught at the private Canterbury School of Florida.

Russ Ball, Scaringe's boss at Canterbury, says students there never complained to him about Scaringe's behavior toward female students.

"That, I have no recollection of whatsoever," Ball said. "If something like that had happened … that would have been a red flag."

Former Canterbury student Aaron Kesler has a different recollection.

"If Russ Ball is saying we never went to him, that's an outright lie," said Kesler, a teacher at a charter school in Pinellas and part-time copy clerk at the St. Petersburg Times.

Kesler, now 28, said he went to Ball with a small group of students to complain about Scaringe touching girls inappropriately during chorus practice.

Michelle Boutros, now 28, was a classmate of Kesler's and says she also complained to Ball about Scaringe. Her memories of an incident in 1993 could not be more vivid.

She recalls wearing a red and white striped shirt with a white collar, and a white pleated skirt with yarn stitching at the hem.

And she remembers when Scaringe slid his hand up her skirt.

"He put his left arm around me and his right hand started going up my thigh. I was, like, 'Oh, my God,' " said Boutros. "I felt his fingers touch my vagina almost. He went to the crest of my underwear."

She said she "jumped up and hit him and ran out of the room. And I went to the girls bathroom and hid under the sink. I would never forget that."

Boutros said she went to her favorite teacher, Mary Ann Polce, for advice. Polce, she said, told her to see Ball, the upper division principal.

"It was like he didn't believe me," Boutros said.

Kesler recalls a similar reaction from Ball. "I just remember it being a non-event, like, 'Oh, kids will be kids.' We didn't feel backed up at all."

Polce said she has no recollection of any student complaint against Scaringe.

"I truly don't remember myself being a part of it," said Polce. But she added, "Michelle has always been a trustworthy person, so if she says that (about the accusations), I'm sure it's true."

Whatever Scaringe did or did not do at Canterbury became an issue shortly after he left.

• • •

On Jan. 20, 1995, he was hired as a substitute music teacher at Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg. Thirty-eight days later, a 14-year-old student alleged, Scaringe fondled her in his office.

The girl said Scaringe grabbed her breasts and buttocks, kissed her on her neck and her ear and rubbed his genitals against her.

He was arrested on a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation. A jury acquitted Scaringe in 1996.

In the lead-up to the trial, according to Pinellas court records, at least one former student and one employee from Canterbury were subpoenaed.

In her deposition, the former Canterbury student said: "All the students knew, you know, how he was."

"What do you mean how he was, like being a touchy-feely guy?" asked Scaringe's attorney.

"Yeah, a pervert," the girl said. "And the teachers saw, they knew but they wouldn't say nothing, I don't know why."

Like Boutros, she said Scaringe had asked her to come to his classroom to get piano lessons.

"I knew that I wasn't going to go alone in the classroom with him because I knew that he was kind of weird so I never went," she said.

Asked if Scaringe ever touched her in a sexually improper way, the student answered: "No, he never."

Authorities did not take action against Scaringe for his conduct at Canterbury.

"We did, at the time, talk to other people where it was suggested there may have been some inappropriate contact, but no one had anything to support additional charges at the time," said Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett.

• • •

Scaringe's attorney in New York reacted strongly to the assertions of the former Canterbury students. "These new allegations," said Brian P. Barrett, "first made 18 years after the date of the alleged incident, are grounded in fiction, abusive and a sorry attempt by a motivated individual to leperize my client in the court of public opinion …

"Simply put, these allegations are false."

• • •

Scaringe's acquittal in the Bay Point Middle School case did not sway Dennis Griffin, who was principal there from 1990 to 2005. He said he had known the girl who accused Scaringe for years before she came to Bay Point and he "never had any doubt" she was being truthful. Griffin fired Scaringe immediately after the girl came forward with the allegations.

Griffin said he called Canterbury for references before he hired Scaringe.

"I talked to people at Canterbury, the headmaster or someone, I can't remember. I got absolutely no negative feedback, whatsoever," Griffin said. "Then following this incident (with the Bay Point student) … a parent came to me and said, 'You know that guy was at Canterbury, and the kids complained about him there.' "

Jack Kenyon, a former Canterbury headmaster who retired in 1997, said that if Griffin did speak to someone at Canterbury, it was not him. Kenyon said he personally did not remember ever hearing allegations about Scaringe's behavior.

"If there were suspicions voiced," he said, "and there may well have been — however, if a student or parents wanted to pursue such an allegation, there would have been a full hearing. Beyond which, if they weren't pleased with the administration's consideration, they could have proceeded to the board of trustees for further consideration. If they still had not gotten satisfaction, they could've made it a police matter."

After Scaringe's arrest, Kenyon said in a 1995 interview that Scaringe had left Canterbury on good terms.

"It had nothing to do with personal conduct," Kenyon said at the time. "We chose to change the direction of our music program."

This month, Ball said he believed the school did not renew Scaringe's contract because of "inadequate teaching." He acknowledged his memory was hazy on that issue after more than 15 years.

Ball announced his retirement as upper school principal in late 2006 and now teaches math at the school.

• • •

Boutros said at the time of the incident she was only 11 or 12 years old and naive.

"I didn't even know what molestation meant at that age," she said, adding that in 1995 and 1996, she "wasn't ready to come forward."

Boutros said it was devastating to be around Scaringe for another 18 months or so before he was let go. "We were scared of him," she said.

In fact, Boutros said, she was told by older students, "don't wear skirts around him."

Boutros said she was saddened to hear about Scaringe's latest alleged victim, but relieved to hear of his arrest on charges of raping a 13-year-old girl who was a member of the Saranac Lake (N.Y.) Youth Center, of which Scaringe was the director.

• • •

Boutros, who graduated from Canterbury in 1999 and is now studying dance and art administration at a Christian university, said the incident gave her nightmares for years.

"He used to haunt me in my dreams when I was little," she said. "… I had issues with men for a long time afterward."

And it changed her in another way, she said.

"I never took piano lessons again after that."

Times researchers Shirl Kennedy and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Former Pinellas teacher's arrest on N.Y. rape charges stirs ugly memories 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 11:42pm]

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