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Sex case against former Hernando coach is dropped

BROOKSVILLE — A former Hernando High School coach accused of touching a female student in a sexual manner will not face criminal charges after the teen decided against pursuing the case, according to the Hernando Sheriff's Office.

Prosecutors were prepared to file a misdemeanor charge of battery against Eric Riggins, 31, after an investigation into allegations that the coach twice touched the girl inappropriately and later made sexually suggestive text message comments to her phone.

But the student chose not to pursue the case because she is preparing to leave for college and did not want to deal with a court battle, according to a report from the Sheriff's Office. The teen also indicated to prosecutors last week that she didn't feel the proposed charges against Riggins were serious enough.

"She wanted a more stringent charge," said Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman with the Sheriff's Office. "But we would have made the arrest if the victim wanted to continue with the case."

Messages left with Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee in Brooksville and Riggins' attorney, Laguerra Champagne, were not returned Tuesday.

Riggins resigned last month as a classroom aide and assistant coach for track and football once a criminal investigation into possible inappropriate contact with students got under way. That followed a district investigation into reports that Riggins had sent sexually suggestive text messages to a student, and that he had visited students' hotel rooms during a night of post-prom partying in Clearwater.

Riggins was suspended with pay. Another coach involved in the April 5 prom night incident, Brent Mobley, was fired April 21.

The Sheriff's Office investigation stemmed from allegations that Riggins first touched the student in February while he oversaw in-school suspension at the school. Detectives then interviewed more than 50 people, including dozens of Hernando High students.

The investigation officially closed June 4 after the student told county's victim advocate she wasn't willing to continue. The teen "was hoping to have some type of charge filed that would show a criminal history of a sex crime to prevent him from having contact with other minors and to prevent this from happening to anyone else," according to the report.

Hernando prosecutors decided not to file charges of sexual battery or solicitation by a school official because there was not enough evidence, the report said.

Riggins had been arrested at least twice before, on charges of burglary with assault in 1998 and charges of trying to sell marijuana to an undercover deputy in 2000.

That record initially prompted the Florida Department of Education to deny Riggins' application for a coaching certificate, but in 2007 he was given a provisional certificate under a settlement agreement. He was first hired in Hernando in 2003, serving as an aide at the alternative school and coaching at Nature Coast Technical High.

Hernando school officials say they tightened their screening standards in 2005 to comply with the Jessica Lunsford Act, but employees hired before that time were not subjected to the tougher requirements.

Riggins resigned three days after Hernando Schools officials recommended his firing. But even though Riggins was no longer an employee, the district forwarded its investigative file to the state for possible action against his coaching certificate.

The state Department of Education inquiry began May 22 when an investigator was assigned to the case, and will likely take months to complete.

Hernando officials said they stood by their decision to dismiss Riggins, based on his job performance and a pattern of bad decisions, including his appearance at students' hotel rooms on prom night.

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt," said superintendent Wayne Alexander.

Times reporter Tom Marshall contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or 754-6120.

Sex case against former Hernando coach is dropped 06/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 11, 2008 5:33pm]
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