Crutchfield found guiltyJun 18th, 2010 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: top story
With a 6-3 vote of the Plaquemines Parish School Board at a tenure hearing last week, South
Plaquemines High School football coach Cyril Crutchfield was found guilty of ‘willful neglect of duty’ as a teacher and bus driver.
The hearing was set up similarly to a court of law with the board as judge. Both Crutchfield and the superintendent’s office had legal council who questioned witnesses and gave opening and closing statements.
Crutchfield was not fired, as was expected to accompanying a guilty verdict. Instead the board voted to suspend the popular coach from teaching for 30 days without pay at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year and from driving the bus for five days, also without pay. He had already been relieved of his coaching duties.
The hearing stemmed from an April 19 incident on the school’s campus.
That day, Crutchfield escorted tardy students to their second block class of the day. He stuck his head into the first student’s classroom, asked the teacher to not mark the student absent or tardy, then made eye contact with student Paul Isidore and said something.
According to English IV teacher Kellie Granito, Crutchfield used a sexually explicit term for female anatomy when talking to Isidore, saying, “Get that (expletive).”
Isidore and a second student in the class, Taylor Scott, confirmed that statement both verbally and in writing to
Principal John Barthelemy Jr. and Plaquemines Schools Personnel Director Monica Wertz during later interviews.
However shortly after, a Times-Picayune article reported the students recanted their statements.
Both Isidore and Scott were subpoenaed to attend the hearing, but neither was present.
Their written statements and notes Wertz made during her interview with the students were admitted into evidence despite an objection from Crutchfield’s attorney Gibby Andry IV.
“I can’t cross examine a statement,” Andry told the board.
Wertz’s testimony was straightforward and detailed, and she often read verbatim from the notes from her April 21 interview with the parties involved.
Barthelemy also testified. The first year principal and former SPHS disciplinarian said he received verbal confirmation of Granito’s claim from Isidore and Scott on April 19.
“(Scott) went into my office by herself and just wrote (what happened) down,” said Barthelemy, just as he had other students do the day following the incident, he testified.
Andry tried to admit The Times-Picayune article where the two seniors said Barthelemy forced them to write that version of events. The board did not allow it.
“A newspaper article is not fact,” said board president Joyce Lampkin. “It can be written any way.”
The first offer
After Wertz brought the findings of her investigation to Denis Rousselle, Plaquemines Parish Superintendant of Schools, Rousselle offered Crutchfield a five day unpaid suspension from teaching and driving, but relieved him indefinitely from coaching duties.
Barthelemy said he encouraged Crutchfield to take the first offer with the intention of Crutchfield eventually being reinstated as coach.
“My belief was that we were going to get him back coaching,” said Barthelemy.
The principal’s testimony continued with Andry pointing out the contradiction of punishing Crutchfield for making such a crude and disrespectful statement about women in front of students, then allowing him in the classroom with those very same students.
“How can you object to him coaching and not to teaching girls,” Andry asked.
Throughout the hearing, the board had to make ruling after ruling to the objections both Andry and prosecuting attorney Bob Hammonds made against the other.
The two attorneys were opposites in their composures.
Andry was loud, boisterous and often rude, calling school board member Nancy LaHaye “cute” and telling Rousselle he was lying. Andry moved around the Belle Chasse Primary School gym where the hearing took place and used the expletive Crutchfield was accused of saying many times.
Hammondss was calm for the most part, although he became visibly frustrated with Andry toward the end of the hearing. Staying behind the prosecutor’s table for most of the hearing, not only did he not once say the expletive, but he also spelled out more common curse words rather than say them.
One of the issues Andry and Hammondss argued about was Crutchfield’s coaching record and anything else to do with coaching in general.
Early on in the hearing, the board established that they were not going to bring coaching into the equation. All attempts Andry made to talk about Crutchfield as a coach were quickly objected to and sustained.
“You didn’t hire this guy to be a chemistry teacher,” Andry argued. “You hired him to be a coach.”
“What you don’t understand is that we get into education to teach,” Rousselle said later. “Football is extra curricular.”
For Crutchfield’s defense, Andry brought out three students, India Brown, Lacie Gabriel and Daniel Buras.
The three students’ accounts of the event did not match.
Brown testified that Crutchfield said, “You got that Pas,” which referred to Paul as “Pas.”
She said the explicative at the heart of the case was “not what I heard” and that she “was standing close enough to hear what (Crutchfield) said.”
Brown also placed Isidore in the hall outside the classroom instead of in the class as other accounts place him.
Gabriel said she heard, “Paul, Paul, you got that phone.”
Buras, who was sitting closest to the door of the classroom, where Crutchfield was standing, said he did not hear the coach say anything.
Finally Crutchfield addressed the board.
He denied using the profanity, saying he said, “You got that, Pas.”
Crutchfield said this phrase was based on a “mulatto talk” phrase “You got that, Cuz.”
Hammonds’ cross examination of Crutchfield brought much argument from Andry.
Hammonds was allowed to enter Jere Longman’s book about the SPHS football team, “The Hurricanes: One High School Team’s Homecoming After Katrina.”
“This is nothing more than a newspaper bound,” Andry objected to the board.
The book was allowed.
“Isn’t it true that your use of profanity makes you a legend?” Hammonds asked. He read several excerpt’s from the book in which Crutchfield was a central character. They were direct quotes attributed to Crutchfield and laced with curse words. When Hammonds asked Crutchfield if he made those comments, Crutchfield almost always answered “can’t recall.”
Next, Hammonds entered into evidence a Northshore newspaper article from 12 years ago reporting on Crutchfield and allegations of sexual misconduct with students when he taught at Covington High School.
Andry strenuously objected on grounds that a newspaper article he wanted as evidence was not allowed in and that the news story was over 12 years old.
It was allowed.
A real judge
During the timed five minute closing arguments both attorneys spoke about teacher Kellie Granito.
“Why would she lie?” Hammonds asked the school board. “She didn’t make it up.”
“You’re being asked to commit him to death, professional death,” Andry said in his closing. “Believe that one and ignore all others? That’s not substantial evidence.”
At the end of the over six hour tenure hearing the board returned with at 6-3 vote of guilty of willful neglect of duty as a teacher and bus operator. The vote was also 6-3 to take disciplinary action.
Voting guilty were Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 9, respectively Rev. Michael Jiles, Nancy LaHaye, Anthony St. Philip, Board Chair Joyce Lamkin, Helen Barrois and William Mertz.
Voting not guilty were Districts 5, 6 and 7, respectively Sharon Branan, Carlton Lafrance and Paul Lemaire.
Offered by Mertz and seconded by Jiles, the board voted along the same lines as the guilty verdict to suspend Crutchfield for 30 days without pay beginning at the next school year and two years of probation.
Next LaHaye offered and Barrois seconded a resolution to terminate Crutchfield as a bus driver.
Lemaire amended the resolution substituting termination with a five day suspension without pay as a bus driver.
“Before we adjourn, we intend to appeal this to a district court, a real judge,” Andry said as the hearing closed.
“This decision had been made before we got here,” said Crutchfield after the decision. “I don’t feel we got a fair shake. I maintain my innocence.”
Andry said he will file the appeal as soon as the transcript from the hearing is available.