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Charged with burglary and domestic battery, SPC provost faces firing

Dr. Marvin L. Bright arrived at St. Petersburg College in 2014 to serve as provost of its Tarpon Springs Campus. [St. Petersburg College]
Dr. Marvin L. Bright arrived at St. Petersburg College in 2014 to serve as provost of its Tarpon Springs Campus. [St. Petersburg College]
Published Oct. 3, 2017

On Sept. 1, the leader of St. Petersburg College's Tarpon Springs campus was arrested, accused of forcing his way into the home of a woman he had dated and choking her.

But college officials say it wasn't until Sept. 18 that Marvin Bright told them about his arrest. His boss has asked for his firing, citing misconduct for "not being truthful and forthcoming."

Bright's attorney disputes that timeline, saying that his client tried several times to meet with SPC President Tonjua Williams to no avail. He said Bright texted her as early as Sept. 5.

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"Dr. Bright is an upstanding, prominent member of our community, and we believe he's being unfairly targeted by certain members of SPC," attorney Gerasimos 'Jerry' Theophilopoulos said.

College spokeswoman Rita Farlow said the college doesn't agree with Theophilopoulos's assessment of the situation "and stands by its internal review regarding college rules and procedures that were not followed."

Bright, 53, lives in Palm Harbor. He came to St. Petersburg College in 2014 as the provost of the Tarpon Springs campus.

He has been placed on administrative leave with pay until Williams makes a decision about his fate. Under SPC rules, he is allowed a meeting with a college official before that decision. It will take place Thursday.

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In the meantime, Bright's case will keep working its way through Pasco County courts, where he has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of burglary of an occupied dwelling and domestic battery by strangulation.

According to an arrest report, it was after midnight on Aug. 21 when Bright entered the New Port Richey home of a woman he has dated on and off for the last two years.

He had not been invited and stayed "despite being told several times to leave," a Pasco County Sheriff's deputy wrote.

Bright and the woman argued, the report said, and then he grabbed her by the neck and squeezed.

"The defendant would not let go of the victim," the deputy wrote.

The woman sustained minor or no injuries, according to Pasco officials. She is not being named because she has been identified by authorities as a victim of domestic violence. Her attorney did not return a message seeking comment.

Court records show that the woman soon obtained a temporary injunction for protection against dating violence.

Bright was arrested on Sept. 1, at the beginning of Labor Day weekend, and held in lieu of $2,500 bail. He was released the next day.

Bright's attorney, Theophilopoulos, said the claims are "frivolous," and that the woman had been reacting badly to medications from a recent surgery.

As Labor Day weekend ended, Bright texted President Williams that he needed to meet about "a private and professional matter," Theophilopoulos said. She said yes, but soon canceled, he said.

The school then closed for Hurricane Irma.

On Sept. 13, according to Theophilopoulos, Bright texted Williams again, arranging a meeting at Carrabba's Italian Grill. She canceled the next day because of a doctor's appointment.

On the 18th, Theophilopoulos said, Bright and Williams finally spoke on the phone.

"He was making attempts, numerous attempts," he said. "Any statement to the contrary is false."

College officials said that they acted swiftly once they learned of the allegations.

Bright, whose salary is $135,915, was placed on paid administrative leave on Sept. 20. Williams named associate provost Rod Davis interim leader.

"We remain focused on our mission of supporting student success and have taken decisive action to ensure continuity of leadership for students, faculty and staff," Farlow, the spokeswoman, said in a statement.

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An internal review determined that Bright strayed from college protocols, Farlow said. Patrick Rinard, the interim senior vice president for student services, wrote a memo recommending Bright's firing based on "misconduct in office." It said Bright failed to tell officials about the charges against him in a timely manner and failed to return school property — keys and an ID badge — when asked.

Bright has worked in higher education for two decades. He last worked in Virginia, where he led student success initiatives for the sprawling Virginia Community College System.

Williams is expected to make a final decision on his firing shortly after the upcoming meeting.

Theophilopoulos is urging the college to be patient.

"Sometimes the truth takes a while to come out," he said.

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com.