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USF Upward Bound mentor charged with sexual battery on student

TAMPA — Connecticut authorities arrested a former mentor for a University of South Florida youth program Thursday on charges he abused his authority by having a sexual relationship with a minor.

Police charged Herron Gaston, 23, a Yale Divinity School student from Haines City, with four counts of sexual battery by a person in a position of custodial authority on a person less than 18 years of age.

Police are awaiting his extradition from New Haven, Conn., said Lt. Chris Daniel, a spokesman for the USF police.

Gaston is accused of befriending a member of USF's Upward Bound program during its six-week summer session, when students come to live on campus. USF police said he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old boy in the program.

Upward Bound, a federally funded preparation program for low-income or first-generation college-bound students, reported the incident to police on Oct. 29.

It was not clear Thursday how the program had come to learn of the incident, or when.

Gaston worked for the program from June 18 to Aug. 1. The program tutors students on Saturdays in addition to the summer session on campus.

Students from Blake, Chamberlain, East Bay, Hillsborough, Jefferson, King, Leto, Middleton, Robinson and Tampa Bay Tech high schools are eligible.

"The university will be holding an administrative review of policies and procedures surrounding the case. All details and the review itself will become public record once that review is concluded," USF said in a statement.

Gaston's friends said they were shocked by the charges. "This is not in his character at all," said Jarveal Baker, 23, a graduate student at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Baker met Gaston in 2006 and said he was a highly involved student with high grades.

Gaston graduated from Haines City High before getting a bachelor's degree, and then a master's degree in public administration, from FAMU, Baker said. He since has started at Yale Divinity.

Gaston also was one of 14 students in 2009 to receive the Florida Gubernatorial Fellowship, a program that puts them to work at least 20 hours a week in the executive office of the governor or in state agencies.

He wasn't the average student, said Yewande Addie, 23, a FAMU alumnus and graduate student in Atlanta. "He was very put together — professional," she said. "(He wore a) suit and tie and carried around an agenda."

He talked about his goals of going into law and eventually becoming the president of a university, Addie said. "I'm surprised to hear about his involvement in this. I hope it's just allegations," she said.

Gaston will be given the opportunity to waive an extradition hearing, according to USF.

USF Upward Bound mentor charged with sexual battery on student 11/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 1:01am]

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