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Plant High tennis coach won't be charged over allegations of inappropriate contact with student

TAMPA — Tampa police investigated a Plant High School tennis coach over allegations that she had a relationship with a student that involved kissing and sexual touching, but police said Friday that the allegations were not enough to charge the teacher with a crime.

In their report, police noted that hundreds of text messages were exchanged between Mary Lynn Vu, a 31-year-old science teacher, and a 16-year-old girl on the tennis team. The student claimed they kissed in the classroom and touched each other's genitals through their clothing.

But authorities said these allegations did not rise to a crime, because the student was too old and because of the apparent consensual nature of the physical contact.

"We feel a high level of frustration, like the family does," Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. "We believe that it's highly inappropriate and very disheartening to have a teacher exploit their position of authority and the trust that's placed upon them by a student."

Hillsborough schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty said district officials are reviewing the police findings to determine if an internal investigation is warranted. He expected a decision early next week.

The school district did not suspend Vu with pay, as would typically happen if a teacher needed to be out of the classroom during an investigation. But in this case, the school year had ended when the allegations surfaced, Hegarty said.

Vu could not be reached for comment. Her attorneys at the Tampa law firm of O'Brien Bower released a statement praising the decision not to charge.

"While initially one may be tempted to rush to judge Mary based upon the salacious nature of these false allegations, a conscientious and careful review of the evidence reveals nothing more than a confused teenage girl, typical high school innuendo and gossip, conflicting statements, (and) an overall complete lack of physical evidence," the statement said.

"… We only hope that Mary will finally be allowed to move on with her life and not be scarred by the false allegations that ultimately amounted to what law enforcement and prosecutors concluded was no crime."

The alleged relationship came to light in early June after another parent contacted the student's father, asking if he knew his daughter and the tennis coach were seeing a lot of each other at and after school.

The student later told police she and Vu had exchanged more than 12,000 text messages over the past year. In one message sent around midnight, the student said the teacher stated "that she was drunk and that she wanted to kiss me."

"What," the student replied, she told police.

"I am so sorry," the teacher texted back, according to the report.

The student also said they had "tongue kissed" and that the teacher had put "hickies" on her stomach. The alleged genital touching occurred on at least two occasions, including at the teacher's house, the report states.

Tampa police said they considered several options to press charges, but didn't have enough evidence to pursue any.

If a victim is 15 or under, inappropriate touching could be a crime under state laws addressing lewd or lascivious offenses, McElroy said. But the student turned 16 one week before the touching allegedly occurred.

It's criminal for an adult 24 years or older to engage in a full sexual act with a minor, said Rita Peters, chief of the sex offenders division at the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. But she said kissing or touching outside the clothing wouldn't be a crime.

Tampa police asked the student to participate in a phone call with the teacher, hoping to hear an admission of more sexual activity. But the girl was unwilling to do so.

McElroy said police also considered battery charges, but the girl said the touching was consensual.

Police closed the 10-page investigation this week outlining the relationship, concluding in consultation with the State Attorney's Office that "there was no criminal offense."

Plant High tennis coach won't be charged over allegations of inappropriate contact with student 07/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 9, 2010 11:59pm]
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