TAMPA — Something bad happened at the South Tampa home of Michael and Kimberly Hoskinson at the beginning of November.
But it was manipulation, not child abuse, defense attorney Richard Escobar said Monday, announcing that the couple will not face criminal charges stemming from their Nov. 13 arrest.
Fabricated evidence landed the Hoskinsons, educators at two of Tampa's most prestigious public schools, in jail, according to letters of release from the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.
"They are not guilty of anything except being great educators and great parents," Escobar told a crowd that included dozens of friends and coworkers.
The police alleged that Michael Hoskinson, 53, then the principal of Coleman Middle School, punched an under-age victim shortly after midnight on Nov. 2.
They said Kimberly Hoskinson, 49, an assistant teacher at Plant High School, pushed the victim. The child, who has not been identified, suffered an injured wrist.
Included in the police account was a text message sent from Kimberly Hoskinson's phone. The text warned that if the child reached out to a coach or another adult for assistance, "you'll end up with a lot more than a few bruised ribs."
Escobar said his investigators were easily able to show, using records from the cell phone carrier, that Kimberly Hoskinson had not sent the text.
"Any tenth-grader would have been able to take a look at the forensic record on the cell phone and they would have been able to see there's a problem here," said Escobar.
It was fairly simple, he said; the network date and time stamp did not correspond with the device date and time stamp. "The minute that those don't jibe, there's a manipulation of the phone," he said.
When confronted, he added, the child admitted to fabricating the message.
"Mike and Kim Hoskinson never should have been arrested in this case," Escobar said, adding it was "based on a rush to judgment and nothing more. This investigation was nothing short of horrible."
The Tampa Police Department defended its work by saying the arrests were based on probable cause and the need to protect the possible victim.
"As is standard in such cases, the investigation continued after the arrest," said a statement from the department.
"As a result of that thorough investigation, new information came to light, which resulted in the actions announced by the State Attorney's Office today."
The State Attorney's Office, similarly, confined its remarks to a prepared statement, saying that during a joint investigation with law enforcement, "we determined that a key witness fabricated and manipulated evidence and that there was not credible evidence to pursue the charges at issue. Accordingly, we have declined to file charges and have closed the investigation."
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The school district said Monday that it has reinstated both the Hoskinsons as employees.
Before the trouble in November, Michael Hoskinson led A-rated Coleman Middle School for 11 years.
He is known not just for his leadership at the school, but also for his ability to interact effectively with the surrounding South Tampa community.
"I think he is an outstanding person," said Coleman teacher Robert Pechacek, part of a large group of friends and coworkers who crowded into Escobar's office to hear the announcement.
Kimberly Hoskinson was newer to the school district, working as an assistant teacher at Plant High School.
The couple declined to speak during the news conference, sitting quietly on a sofa. Kimberly Hoskinson sobbed at times, as did some of their friends.
The room erupted in cheers when Escobar announced the couple are discussing their return to work.
It is not yet clear what jobs they will be given. Superintendent Jeff Eakins plans to meet with the couple within a few days.
Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @marlenesokol