NEW PORT RICHEY — A physical education teacher and baseball coach at Gulf High School was suspended last week after a student accused him of choking him.
Authorities announced this week they will not pursue any criminal charges against Shaun Wiemer, 41, but he remains on paid leave while the school district conducts its own investigation.
The alleged incident happened during gym class Wednesday morning. Joe Lilly, 15, said he was walking to play basketball when he heard Wiemer shout a slur at a group of mentally handicapped students sitting behind the bleachers.
Lilly said when he stood up for the students, Wiemer called him a hateful word and held him by his neck against the wall. The freshman said Wiemer then twisted him around and held him in a headlock, causing him to lose vision and leaving him with cuts and scrapes across his cheek, neck and mouth.
"I thought I was about to die," Lilly said.
Wiemer was placed on leave the next day, Pasco school district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said.
New Port Richey police Chief Jeffrey Harrington said detectives and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office investigated the allegations and decided not to file charges.
"The state attorney had an opportunity to talk to all the witnesses," Harrington said Tuesday. "At the end of the day, the state attorney decided it did not rise to the level of being a criminal offense."
Lead detective Jason Engel said retellings of the scuffle by Lilly, Wiemer and witnessing students didn't appear to match up.
Lilly "said the teacher was aggressive toward him, and the teacher said he was defending himself from the student," Engel said. "Other students there said (Lilly) was vulgar and aggressive toward the teacher. There were some conflicting statements about what occurred."
Wiemer could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Jim Ciadella, a business representative with the United School Employees of Pasco, said Lilly's story "was considerably different than what we heard from our member.
"We believe once the facts are all explained and discussed and investigated, Mr. Wiemer will be vindicated," Ciadella said.
Romagnoli said school officials are conducting their own investigation — including reviewing footage on school security cameras — to determine whether Wiemer will face any disciplinary action.
Lilly's father, James Lilly Sr., 40, said he is upset about the school's response to the attack. Joe Lilly, a seamen recruit in the high school's ROTC program, said his uniform was bloodied during the attack, and that ROTC officers immediately cut up the shirt and threw it in the trash — discarding what James Lilly said was crucial evidence.
"To me it smells like a cover-up," the father said.
Engel said a patrol officer recovered the shirt from the trash bin and filed it as evidence. ROTC officers told him it was military custom to destroy sullied clothing to not "disgrace the uniform."
Joe Lilly said Tuesday he had lost sleep since Wednesday, recalling the attack. His father said he would definitely take the case to civil court without criminal charges.
Wiemer, the school's head baseball coach, has worked for the district since 2000. He was arrested in 2007 on charges of burglary with battery and simple battery after the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said he got into a fight when leaving a Holiday bar. But prosecutors dropped the charges, and the state's professional standards board chose not to take action.
He has had no school-related disciplinary problems.
Before that, Ciadella said, Wiemer taught in Alabama and has a total of about 19 years of teaching experience.
"His record has been impeccable," he said.
Times correspondent Andy Villamarzo contributed to this report. Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.