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Zebulon school's ex-headmaster goes to trial on sex charges

Posted September 23, 2013
Updated September 27, 2013

Brandon Smith, the former headmaster of East Wake Academy, sits Sept. 23, 2013, during his trial on charges of sexual battery and sexual assault stemming from complaints by two former school employees.

— Sexual comments and inappropriate actions by the former administrator of a Zebulon charter school toward two school employees got to the point in 2011 that both women were mentally and physically affected by the unwanted advances, a Wake County prosecutor told jurors Monday in opening statements of his criminal trial on charges stemming from the allegations.

On one occasion, Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita said, Brandon Beverly Smith pulled one of the women so close to him that she could feel his erect penis. He also allegedly pulled down the pants of another employee so he could see a tattoo on her lower back.

"He was their boss. He was a revered person in the community. He was an excellent academic school headmaster," Shekita said.

Smith was the headmaster for 10 years at East Wake Academy before he was fired last March as a result of the charges against him – accusations he denies. He faces two counts of sexual battery and two counts of assault on a female.

Shekita said Smith was well-liked at the school because he had helped it become a school of excellence. But underneath that academic exterior, she said, he pushed boundaries with the women for the purpose of his own sexual gratification.

"I'd seen him as a great leader," one of the women testified about when she started working years earlier at East Wake Academy. "He was very friendly. I enjoyed working for him."

But her view of Smith changed over time as, she said, he started making comments about her appearance. Eventually, she said, when no one was around, he would pull her close to him so that he could whisper in her ear.

One time, she said, Smith told her that he had a difficult time controlling himself because of how she looked in a pair of pants and joked about refuting the claim if it were ever mentioned.

"He would say, 'If you ever tell anybody, I'll deny it,'" the woman said. "And he would laugh."

Neither of the women went forward immediately with the allegations, Shekita said, because they knew how much parents liked him and because they were worried that they might lose their jobs.

"These women had no reason to make up a story to get Brandon Smith in trouble," Shekita said.

But Smith's defense attorney, Robert Lane, said during his opening statement that both women's stories kept changing and that he didn't know what their testimony would be at trial.

Even though she had several chances, he said, one of the women never told authorities or the school's board of directors about the November 2011 encounter in which Smith was aroused when he hugged her.

Lane said that the woman testifying Monday afternoon was upset after Smith allegedly pulled down her pants in August 2011 but that she continued sending him personal emails in the weeks and months after the encounter, including one in which she made comments about her own appearance.

"Why would a distraught, traumatized person – not sure about what to do – send an email (to Smith) two months later (talking about how good) she looked in her shirt?" Lane said.

Both women, he added, have pending lawsuits, and he urged jurors to ask themselves throughout the trial about why the women might make such claims and how the outcome of Smith's trial could affect the civil litigation.

"What could be the motivation other than the truth?" he asked them. "There are several hundred thousand motivating things."

36 Comments

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  • laurag0510 Sep 25, 10:42 a.m.

    how can people judge the quality of an educator based on the fact that she has a tattoo? I have plenty of friends who are quality educators, have received numerous awards, on their way to PhDs in Education and they have tattoos. Ok so she showed her tattoo to a group of people.. AND???? did she strip naked and dance around NO she showed art work. Get over yourself if you are going to judge someone cause they have a tattoo.

  • Save It Sep 24, 3:13 p.m.

    "Save it, what would you have preferred they did? Take pics of the red marks on their cheeks after he gave them a congratulatory slap on the buns"?

    Too bad if they didn't file an immediate police report which would have involved an assault investigation. Absent one it is all hearsay and accusation. We no longer convict people on accusation. That's what they did in France during the age of the guillotine - you could simply "denounce" someone publicly and the traveling death squad would come remove the heads of their family. Let me know when we get to this point for you Obamacare guy. I have a few people I need to try in your court of public opinion and denounce.

  • Obamacare for everyone Sep 24, 1:57 p.m.

    Save it, what would you have preferred they did? Take pics of the red marks on their cheeks after he gave them a congratulatory slap on the buns?

  • Save It Sep 24, 1:44 p.m.

    My children have been at EWA since Kindergarten. I always liked Brandon Smith. If he made women uncomfortable he should have backed off, yes. This has always seemed like an irritated hive of queen bees off on a witch hunt for a boss they didn't like who made them uncomfortable. Unless they have very specific events that occurred with evidence to back up the assault (verbal or physical) then no one should rush to judgement and convict in the court of media sponsored public opinion (the worst of all justice systems). Otherwise it's all hearsay and sentiment.

  • Hasbeen Sep 24, 1:28 p.m.

    How old are these people? Sound like adoloscents

  • jackflash123 Sep 24, 1:27 p.m.

    "I worked with Mr. Smith at Enloe during the 1994-95 school year. He was friendly, supportive, and well-liked. I never once saw or heard of any inappropriate action on his part."

    I'm sure you're not alone in your opinion, but part of why anyone ever does get away w/ this type of thing is that he or she has plenty of redeeming characteristics, like charm or general kindness, and he or she is calculating enough to pick targets wisely.

  • Whosays Sep 24, 1:26 p.m.

    Read the whole story.....http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/10880047/

  • Sweetgrl3 Sep 24, 1:12 p.m.

    BTW he didn't work at Enloe in 94-95.

  • Whosays Sep 24, 1:09 p.m.

    This man needs to get convicted, many good teachers quit because of this man, and they were valid reasons. EWA lost some of their best teachers because of his lack of self control.

  • jackflash123 Sep 24, 12:59 p.m.

    "Prove it or back off."

    That's actually not our burden of proof here. And I find that pretty fitting in the court of public opinion where we're dealing w/ a "he said, she said" situation.

    As for the different standards applied to him vs the women involved, he was the boss. He was in a position of power. A subordinate might be inappropriate, but he or she doesn't really have the power to leverage against someone in the workplace when it comes to harassment. Sure, anyone can behave inappropriately, but just like the boss is the fall guy for a bad business deal, he is held to a higher standard in these incidents, too. And that's as it should be.

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