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Ex-headmaster's defense: Sex allegations not crimes

Posted September 26, 2013
Updated September 27, 2013

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— A police detective investigating complaints against a Zebulon charter school's headmaster testified Thursday in the former administrator's trial for misdemeanor sex charges that many of the allegations he heard – although inappropriate – were not crimes.

Lt. Scott Finch with the Zebulon Police Department said that several female teachers and employees at East Wake Academy told him in 2012 about Brandon Smith's habit of hugging, inappropriate touching and sexually explicit comments but that most of what he heard did not involve sexual contact – one of the necessary requirements for criminal charges.

"Inappropriate words, alone, wouldn't meet the elements of the crime," Finch said. "Simply words would not meet it."

Smith, who was East Wake's top administrator for nearly 10 years before he was fired last March, faces two charges of sexual battery and two counts of assault on a female stemming from allegations that he hugged a teacher while he had an erection and pulled down the pants of another to view a tattoo on her lower back.

Closing arguments are expected Friday morning. Smith did not testify.

His attorneys argued Thursday that the state offered no evidence to support that the crimes occurred – that Smith didn't know he would become sexually aroused when he hugged the teacher and that he didn't slide down the pants of the other teacher far enough for it to be a sex crime.

WRAL News is not identifying either of the women – both former teachers – due to the sexual nature of the charges in the case. The charges stem from incidents alleged to have occurred in August 2011 and November 2011.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita, however, said there were elements of sexual gratification in both of the crimes, including a comment in which Smith told the teacher with the tattoo that he "might not be able to control myself."

Defense attorneys have implied that the women at the center of the charges have financial motives – each have filed counter claims to a defamation lawsuit Smith filed against them last year – and that they have changed their stories about what happened.

Most notably, the teacher who was hugged never told police that Smith was sexually aroused. Jurors watched a video of her police interview in which she talked about many of her claims, including hugs, but never mentioned it. Nor did she mention it in a written statement.

"Did you ever read where she had said anything about an erect penis from Brandon Smith?" defense attorney Rob Lane asked Finch Thursday.

"Not that I recall," Finch said.

"And would it be fair to say that, in investigating a sexual crime, that's something that would jump out at you if you saw it in writing?" Lane asked.

"Yes," Finch replied.

The teacher told jurors Wednesday that she didn't use the word because she was uncomfortable with it, but that's what she meant when she wrote "unwanted touching."

Kevin Murray, an assistant headmaster at East Wake, however, testified that the teacher had no problem telling him about a sexually explicit comment she received from another school employee in 2011.

"I was a bit caught off guard and rather surprised by that," Murray said of the comment. "It was kind of just like relating a funny story."

Defense attorneys also noted for jurors that neither Murray nor Darrell Johnson, another assistant headmaster, ever received complaints from the women or any other employee about Smith behaving inappropriately.

Witnesses testified that they were fearful of losing their jobs because of an atmosphere of intimidation that Smith created.

But Johnson had nothing but praise for Smith, testifying that he "ran a tight ship" and that his management style was the reason for the school's success as an accredited "school of excellence."

"(He was a) great leader, a visionary. Passionate," Johnson said. "He was one who could bring passion. He made you think you could do things you normally wouldn't do.'"

Charlotte Kelly, who has known Smith for more than 10 years and has a granddaughter at East Wake Academy, also spoke of Smith with high regard.

She never saw Smith behave inappropriately, she said.

"Brandon made sure that everything he did was all about the children and making sure they got the best in every possible way," she said. "He was able to get more than $9 million for the school, and in my book, that's an A-plus."


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  • Six String Sep 27, 2013

    As for the headline of the story, here is what I found on assault and battery:

    "Two separate offenses against the person that when used in one expression may be defined as any unlawful and unpermitted touching of another. Assault is an act that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent, harmful, or offensive contact. The act consists of a threat of harm accompanied by an apparent, present ability to carry out the threat. Battery is a harmful or offensive touching of another."


  • Whosays Sep 27, 2013

    ...and like I said before he was not the only source of getting that $9 Mil for the school.
    There are alot of good teachers at that school that helped to earn that as well.

  • Whosays Sep 27, 2013

    Dropping the charges only mean he got away with it twice....I hope they do not do that, because your child or childs teacher may be next.

  • itsmyownopinion Sep 27, 2013

    "Brandon made sure that everything he did was all about the children and making sure they got the best in every possible way," she said. "He was able to get more than $9 million for the school, and in my book, that's an A-plus."

    By all means, put money for schools over morality and safety of both students and other employees. Let's give that an A+ -- however, innocent until proven guilty.

  • lazyrebel Sep 27, 2013

    If they brought the charges, then it is public record and they should be ID'd. Double standard?

  • 678devilish Sep 27, 2013

    Maybe they should drop all charges against this man, since the ladies cannot be sure exactly what happen to them.

  • ashwednesday36 Sep 26, 2013

    My post goes directly to character of the "cowboy" who has himself revered by the entire school (cowboy day 2007-08). It IS his pattern of behavior. Murray, Johnson, Lanier....the whole EWA mafia and the board allowed this mess to happen. This is what predators do....slide into a position of power and build trust. Convince those around you that you have "the juice." Then, when say the chemistry teacher gets harassed and she gets an attorney. The attorney gets to the school and gets chased off by Johnson after Smith turns his back on him and refuses to address him. It's no wonder Zebulon Police are testifying for Smith....they helped run the lawyer off that day. I beg to differ, my posts are dead on topic!!!

  • Good Girl Sep 26, 2013

    It's sounds like sexual harassment!!!!

  • Kaitlyn Sep 26, 2013

    "The defense that the guy didn't know he would get an erection and it was accidental contact is beyond belief."

    Right! You don't hug ANYONE that close unless you either are or want to be intimate with them. Especially in a work setting where a boss is doing this to a subordinate employee.

  • tgiv Sep 26, 2013

    Pressing an unwanted erection into someone against their will is sexual assault. Pulling someone's pants down against their will is sexual assault.

    The defense that the guy didn't know he would get an erection and it was accidental contact is beyond belief. Saying he didn't pull the pants down far enough is also absurd. If it was against her will, then it was assault.