Charge against teacher dropped after prosecutor's test
By Jenny Lee Allen,,, April 14, 2006

MANATEE COUNTY -- The impromptu experiment went like this:

Prosecutor Don Hartery Jr. rapped his knuckles against a pole to simulate how loud a sound was made when a student's head hit a similar beam. He then took it one step further and hit the back of his head against the pole.

Four witnesses, who in February said they saw Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School teacher Tracy Mossey discipline an 8-year-old boy by banging his head into a pole, told Hartery when to stop.

Hartery acknowledged he had no way to measure the sound. He also said that after the experiment one of the witnesses told him to stop early because she was worried he would hurt himself.

Nevertheless, on Thursday, the day after the test, Hartery dropped the battery charge against Mossey. He said the experiment was part of the reason.

"It showed me that the physical conduct was not so extreme as to qualify" as a crime, Hartery said.

News of the dropped charge angered the boy's mother, Clotele Reed, who said she will pull her son from the school if Mossey returns.

"She got away with it," said Reed, adding that her son is afraid of the teacher.

"She had no right to push him up against a steel pole. I just don't agree with it at all.

"If it was me, I would have got child abuse."

Reed said the ordeal isn't over; she plans to see a lawyer about the incident.

Mossey was charged in March by authorities and has been on paid administrative leave since the Feb. 23 incident. She could not be reached for comment.

Despite the dropped charge, Schools Superintendent Roger Dearing will recommend that the School Board fire Mossey at its next meeting, board attorney John Bowen said.

He said authorities and the school district apply different standards, and that the teacher "was clearly banging the kid's head against the pole."

"The superintendent finds that behavior unacceptable and inappropriate," Bowen said.

Hartery said he was interviewing witnesses Wednesday when he decided to replicate the sound.

"I just thought, 'Let me try this,'" Hartery said Thursday.

The battery charge was initially filed by an assistant state attorney who has since resigned from the office. Hartery, in a court filing explaining why he dropped the charge, wrote that "for the act to become an intentional criminal act, it must involve far, far more force than was used in the present case."

Hartery also wrote that the first prosecutor should have researched "in loco parentis," a Latin term that means "in place of the parent" and regards teachers' ability to discipline students. Hartery wrote that past cases have established that "the teacher was privileged to contact the child for disciplinary issues."

Mossey, 46, said in March that she disciplined the boy but didn't do anything to hurt him.

The boy had complained to his mother that he suffered a headache when he got home.

Mossey has worked at Orange Ridge, Braden River and McNeal elementary schools since 1994; she had never been disciplined at work.

Staff writers Bart Pfankuch and Michael A. Scarcella contributed to this report.

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