Raleigh, N.C. — A former teacher at a Zebulon charter school on Tuesday described for jurors in the trial of her former boss how he approached her after a staff meeting two years ago and made inappropriate comments toward her before pulling down part of her pants to see a tattoo.
"(He said) 'You can't wear those pants again,'" the teacher testified of the Aug. 11, 2011, encounter she had with Brandon Smith, the former headmaster at East Wake Academy. "I said,' Why? Are they inappropriate?' He said, 'No. I just might not be able to control myself.'"
Smith then, without her permission, slipped her pants below her left buttock, the teacher said, where she felt his hand on her skin.
"He said, "I hope you don't mind if I look at your tattoo again,'" said the teacher, whom WRAL is not identifying due to the sexual nature of the charges in the case.
She testified Monday that, on a previous occasion, she had shown a group of people, including Smith, the part of the lower-back tattoo that was above the pants line.
It wasn't until March 2012 that she reported the August incident to police – two months after she told the school's board of directors.
"I was shocked. I was disgusted," the teacher testified about why she waited. "I didn't want anybody to know. It's not something you want to tell everyone that happened. I didn't want to lose my job if I said something."
Smith – East Wake Academy's longtime headmaster – was eventually fired and later charged with two counts of sexual battery and two counts of assault on a female stemming from the complaint, as well as similar allegations by another school employee.
He has denied the charges, which defense attorneys have suggested are motivated by a civil lawsuit the women filed in response to a defamation claim he initially filed against them.
On cross-examination, the teacher admitted to never confronting Smith about his alleged inappropriate behavior but said she didn't because she feared losing her job.
She also admitted to sending him emails about personal matters and inviting him out for coffee prior to the August incident.
Attorney James Hairston also questioned her at length about the lawsuit and how much money she was demanding from his client.
"You can't recall not one dollar amount that your attorneys asked for from the defendant to settle this case? That's your testimony?" Hairston asked at one point.
"Yes, sir, that's my testimony," the teacher replied. "It's never been about money. I just wanted it over."
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita said in opening statements Monday that neither of the alleged victims knew each other initially and that neither had a reason to get Smith in trouble.
Shekita tried to call other school employees to help establish a pattern of inappropriate behavior by Smith and a work atmosphere in which he intimidated employees and caused them to fear for their jobs.
A school administrator testified that Smith would turn on music in his office and dance with female employees. In addition to inappropriate comments, she recalled one summer how he pulled off her sandal to see a tattoo on her foot.
"I told him I did not like that and that it was inappropriate," she said.
But she never confronted him about any other behavior, she said. That included several other occasions when Smith allegedly walked up behind her and squeezed her shoulders.
"He said, you're my property from 7:30 until 4," the administrator said.
"I just froze, because he made it clear that he was in control, and it was his way or the highway," she added later.
The administrator finally went to the school's board of directors in 2004, she said, after seeing him squeeze the shoulders of another employee and commenting to a student something about if he were 20 years younger.
She said on cross-examination that Smith's behavior toward her stopped and that she didn't have any other problems with him.
But that was partly because she was transferred to another department in the school and also because she was never alone with him again, she said.