Local News

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

Posted September 23, 2013 7:05 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2013 12:26 p.m. EDT

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."