Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Education

Largo High teacher arrested after police say he encouraged choking of student

LARGO — Put the card game away, witnesses heard the teacher tell his Largo High class, or another student will "choke you out."

Within 30 seconds, the apparent threat was carried out. A 16-year-old trained in jiujitsu put a 14-year-old boy in a choke hold until he passed out and fell, hitting his head, police said.

But the teacher, rather than calling for medical assistance, told other students to help the bleeding and disoriented 14-year-old onto the school bus, according to police, and told school officials only that the boy fell.

Largo High industrial arts teacher Thomas E. Farmer, 44, of Largo was arrested Wednesday and charged with felony child abuse. He resigned June 7 while under investigation by the Pinellas County School District.

Battery charges will be filed against the 16-year-old, Largo police said.

In school district documents obtained Wednesday by the Tampa Bay Times, temporary Largo High School Resource Officer George Walters described what he believed happened that day.

A group of students would not stop playing cards on May 30, the next-to-last day of school, so Farmer told a 16-year-old who was known to practice martial arts to "choke out" the disobedient students, police said.

The boy passed out, fell and hit his head, according to the witness reports. His glasses broke, and he was bleeding from his left eye.

One student told Walters the boy shook "like a chicken" before falling to the ground and that Farmer didn't intervene, but told the boy to "tap out."

Shortly after, Walters, assisting in dismissal, was called to bus 542 about a student who needed medical assistance.

"I asked (the boy) if he was feeling okay," Walters wrote in the school district report. "(He) was not able to form a sentence or capable of comprehending the questions I was asking him."

The boy was taken by ambulance to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. Doctors said he suffered a concussion and spent the night there in a neck brace.

In an interview the next morning, the boy could not write a statement, but he was able to talk, Walters wrote. He remembered waking up in the classroom and seeing Farmer standing over him. He remembered that when he complained of nausea, Farmer put a wastebasket in front of him.

The boy has since recovered.

Farmer did not return calls from the Times Wednesday, but he denied the charges in an interview with Bay News 9.

"There's absolutely no way in the world I would be as malicious to my students as this report says," Farmer said from his Largo apartment.

"I didn't tell him to touch him, I didn't tell him choke him, I didn't tell him to give him a kiss, I didn't tell him anything," Farmer said. "When the student stopped playing cards, I went back to my computer. Grades, testing, all of that stuff. And somewhere between then and that, that's when the incident happened."

In a statement to the school district's Office of Professional Standards on June 4, Farmer said his only offense was "not reporting a student injury."

"(I) told them to put (the cards) away," Farmer wrote. "Told them 'don't make me send (him) over.' " Farmer said he was putting grades into a computer when he heard a noise, saw a student down and noticed a "mark" by his eye.

He asked the student if he was okay. "Walked out with friends," he wrote in the statement. "Looked fine."

The school district hired Farmer, who taught a heating and air-conditioning class, in 2011. He was not a state-certified teacher, said district spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra, but received a district-issued certification to teach industrial technology.

Farmer was arrested early Wednesday and taken to the Pinellas County Jail. He immediately posted bond of $10,000 and was released.

Farmer told Bay News 9 that he believes the issue will be cleared up and that he would like to teach again.

News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.

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