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Coach suspended; faces conduct questions

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando High School coach is under investigation following allegations of sexually suggestive communications with a female student.

Eric A. Riggins, 37, of Brooksville, was suspended with pay Monday pending an investigation into the allegations, school officials said.

"The investigation is focusing on Mr. Riggins' conduct," Barbara Kidder, director of professional standards, said Friday. "We're investigating his interactions with students."

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office wouldn't say whether a criminal investigation has been initiated. But a teachers' union representative confirmed Friday that deputies have been interviewing dozens of students this week in connection with the case.

"It's been reported to me by my building reps at Hernando High School that there is a criminal investigation that is ongoing," said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association. "Students have been sent to the office area for interviewing by administration and the sheriff's department."

The school district's probe began April 18, when Riggins was removed from his duties as track coach and monitor of an in-school suspension room following a meeting with principal Betty Harper, according to a document obtained by the St. Petersburg Times.

Riggins was told in that meeting of alleged "text messaging (with a) female student with sexual inferences," according to the document.

Also discussed in the meeting were reports he had gone to "student's hotel rooms (Best Western/Red Roof Inn) in Clearwater between 1-3 a.m. asking if there was a party. One girl in a sports bra was embarrassed."

That was an apparent reference to the night of April 5, prom night at Hernando High, when some students ventured to Clearwater following the dance at GlenLakes Golf and Country Club in Weeki Wachee.

Riggins and another coach, Brent Mobley, allegedly showed up at those hotels on prom night and may have spent time there, but there are no indications they were involved in sexual activity that night, officials said. Nor is there any indication that Mobley was ever involved in any inappropriate physical contact with students.

Nevertheless, Mobley was fired Monday from his duties as long-term substitute and track coach, said superintendent Wayne Alexander. As an at-will employee, Mobley could be fired without cause, he said.

Neither coach could be reached for comment Friday.

Both Riggins and Mobley had previously been arrested on charges of marijuana possession, but neither arrest led to a conviction.

Riggins' record also included a 1998 arrest for burglary with assault, after he forced his way into his then-girlfriend's Brooksville home and "threatened to kill" her, according to court records and a Florida Department of Education document.

He eventually pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony. Adjudication was withheld and Riggins was sentenced to five years' probation, according to court documents.

But the following year, the same female victim reported that Riggins had attacked her. "I called it quits and tried to get my keys, then he hit me and we had a fight,'' said the victim, according to court records.

The woman, whose name is being withheld because of the nature of the allegations, launched a domestic violence proceeding against him but later withdrew the complaint.

In his 2000 marijuana case, Riggins allegedly offered to sell marijuana to an undercover police officer in Spring Hill. He was arrested on charges of possession and sale of marijuana, but the state attorney's office declined to prosecute due to a witness problem.

It's unclear whether Hernando School Board officials knew of Riggins' arrests when they hired him in 2003 as an aide at the STAR Education Center, the district's alternative school. He also served as a coach at Nature Coast Technical High School before coming to Hernando High last August.

But the arrests were noted in Riggins' personnel file when he applied to the state for certification as a coach in 2006.

The Florida Department of Education initially argued against awarding certification, but in 2007 the state Education Practices Commission reversed that recommendation, reaching a settlement under which Riggins was granted certification with conditions. Among those conditions was a letter of reprimand and a $250 fine.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Coach suspended; faces conduct questions 04/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 1:47pm]

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