Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Education

Former Tampa Prep music teacher linked to sex abuse scandal at Rhode Island prep school

TAMPA — Hawkins Cramer said he found the courage to confront his abuser in 2004.

It was two decades after he said he was molested at a prestigious Rhode Island prep school. So he said he picked up the phone and called Franklin Coleman, the choral teacher who promised him a future in music but who Cramer said fondled him.

But Cramer said he was stunned to learn back then that Coleman was still teaching: at Tampa Preparatory School.

Cramer said he told Coleman to resign from teaching. He told his former teacher what happened was wrong.

"I was nervous and sweaty about it," Cramer, 48, told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday, "and more just, like, angry, and I was kind of speaking through gritted teeth."

Cramer said he told Tampa Prep officials in 2004 about his allegations against Coleman. But only recently did Cramer learn that Coleman retired from the elite Tampa private school in 2008 — four years after his warning.

Cramer's accusations against Coleman are part of a much larger scandal engulfing St. George's School, an Episcopalian prep school in Middletown, R.I. Attorneys representing accusers there said Tuesday more than 40 have contacted them with allegations that they were molested and raped at the school in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the Boston Globe.

St. George's own investigation has found "multiple credible reports of sexual misconduct at the school, ranging from unprofessional behaviors to outright sexual assault," according to the Globe. The school said it has found 26 accusers and referred to one of their abusers as "Employee Perpetrator #3." The school's report said that employee inappropriately touched students, had "nude encounters" with them and gave them alcohol.

The Globe said attorneys Eric MacLeish and Carmen Durso publicly identified "Employee Perpetrator #3" as Coleman at a news conference Tuesday. He worked at St. George's until he was fired for misconduct in 1988, the Globe said. He started working at Tampa Prep in August 1997. He served as choral director.

Coleman, now 74, has not been charged with a crime. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Coleman left the Tampa school "on his own volition" in 2008, according to Kevin Plummer, the current head of Tampa Prep.

"I am unaware of any student complaints against Mr. Coleman during his time at our school," Plummer said in a statement Tuesday to the Times.

After confronting his former teacher in 2004, Cramer said he hung up the phone "feeling good."

"I confronted the guy who made me into a victim and contacted his employer," he said.

But it was unknown Tuesday what Tampa Prep officials did after Cramer's warning to the school more than a decade ago. The head of the school in 2004 could not be reached for comment. Plummer, who came to Tampa Prep after Coleman left, said he couldn't comment on Cramer's allegations.

Cramer, now an elementary school principal in Washington, said he did not remember who he spoke to at Tampa Prep in 2004. He said the call ended with an official thanking him for the information. Cramer said he also shared his story with St. George's officials in 2004 in the hopes that they would investigate Coleman and inform Tampa Prep as well.

"It was only until the last couple weeks I found out he retired in 2008," Cramer said, then paused. "That's a lot of kids."

Plummer said teachers are given background checks before they join the staff. Now Tampa Prep is figuring out what to do next.

"We just haven't determined our next steps beyond speaking with our board and notifying parents and our extended Tampa Prep community," Plummer said in an email to the Times. "I can tell you that we will be fully cooperative with the Rhode Island State Police or other law enforcement inquiries."

Tampa Prep dealt with similar allegations in 2005 that saw a coach sent to prison. Swim coach Kimberly Brabson III secretly videotaped girls as they tried on bathing suits. In 2011, he was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in 2014 and will be on probation until 2019.

For those in Tampa who knew Coleman the allegations are shocking, said Terence Moore, who rented a South Tampa apartment to the former teacher.

He called Coleman an ideal tenant and said he turned around Tampa Prep's music program during his tenure. He said he led a quiet life style, but was active at St. John's Episcopal in South Tampa, where he played the organ and helped lead choir.

The landlord said that after Coleman retired in 2008 he moved to New Jersey.

"I have nothing but high praise for him," Moore said. "I hope all of this is not true."

Cramer told the Times that Coleman molested him while he was at St. George's from 1981-85. Coleman "groomed" him, he said, and took a more active role in his life after his father died.

"He looked at me as being one of his potential collection pieces — a blond-haired boy," Cramer said.

Cramer also detailed his allegations to the Globe. Cramer and two other students told the Globe that Coleman, their dorm master, rubbed their shoulders to "relieve stress" and invited them to his apartment.

Cramer said he remembers an overnight field trip to Boston for a jazz concert with two other students. Coleman, he said, only got two beds to ensure one of the boys had to sleep with him.

He said when Coleman took him to visit colleges, the then-high school junior woke up in the car to find Coleman fondling him. Cramer, who always struggled with grades, said the prestigious college was meant to prepare students for a bright future.

"For me, it did the opposite," he said.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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