Arrested teacher returns to work

BROOKSVILLE — A Powell Middle School teacher who was charged last weekend with driving under the influence is back in the classroom pending the outcome of his case.

Jesse Mockler, 36, returned on Tuesday, two days after his arrest in Weeki Wachee, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said Thursday. District officials declined to comment on the case earlier this week as they waited for Mockler to report the arrest within 48 hours, as required, Blavatt said.

"We looked at the situation, and at this point, based on the information we have, he has returned to duty," Blavatt said.

Now the district will wait for the case to work its way through the judicial system. The DUI is a misdemeanor charge and not one that would prompt district officials to dismiss or suspend him even if Mockler is convicted.

Under state law, a teacher on an annual contract may be suspended or dismissed at any time for immorality, misconduct in office, incompetency, gross insubordination, willful neglect of duty, drunkenness or being convicted of or entering a plea of guilty to any crime involving "moral turpitude."

Teachers are typically pulled from the classroom if accused of a felony or any offense involving children.

Mockler's own history offers an example.

In 2007, he was charged with DUI, drug trafficking and possession of illegal drugs after a deputy found 12 oxycodone pills in his pocket.

The felony drug charges prompted school officials to suspend him, but he returned to the job after accepting a plea deal that averted a felony conviction. Mockler's attorney said the pills were from an expired prescription and successfully argued that the amount didn't warrant a trafficking charge. The possession charge was dropped after Mockler completed a pretrial program that included counseling. As for the DUI, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving. He was ordered to attend a DUI school and undergo an alcohol evaluation.

Last May, he was charged with misdemeanor battery and criminal mischief after admitting to punching his girlfriend in the arm and smacking her in the face, records show. Mockler remained in the classroom. The charges were dropped after the woman asked prosecutors not to move forward and prosecutors had little other evidence to support the case.

Sunday's arrest marks Mockler's third in Florida, records show.

Mockler was driving north on U.S. 19 about 3 a.m. when a Florida Highway Patrol trooper clocked his 2003 Chevrolet at 72 mph in a 55 mph zone, according to an arrest report. The trooper stopped him at gas station at U.S. 19 and State Road 50.

His breath reeking of alcohol, Mockler failed field sobriety exercises and showed signs of "extreme impairment," the trooper wrote in the report. Belligerent and profane, Mockler admitted he was high and stated several times that he was "an alcoholic and needed help," the report said.

He was charged with DUI and refusal to submit to a breath test after a previous refusal, both misdemeanors. He posted $500 bail Sunday afternoon.

School officials can refer Mockler to an employee assistance program to receive addiction services, but he cannot be required to do so unless something happens on the job that indicates he is unfit for duty, Blavatt said.

"That was not the case in this situation," he said.

Mockler has not returned phone messages or an email from the Times.

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes.

Arrested teacher returns to work 02/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 6:36pm]

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