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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Melbourne school fires accused teacher

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Staff Writer

The Melbourne School Board fired a Melbourne High School teacher facing multiple sexual assault charges Oct. 26.

Agriculture teacher Steven Mitchell, 29, of Pineville who was on paid administrative leave since the allegations surfaced in June, was unanimously dismissed by the school board.

"By state law he (Mitchell) is entitled to a closed session hearing with the school board if the superintendent recommends that he be fired. I made the recommendation," said Melbourne Superintendent Gerald Cooper.

Cooper said he was not pressured to fire Mitchell by the public. "Some people have strong opinions about this situation, but in general the folks in the community let us do our job," Cooper said.

Mitchell was charged June 11 with two counts of sexual assault in the first degree, class B felonies; two counts of sexual assault in the second degree, class B felonies; solicitation to commit sexual assault in the second degree, a class C felony; and sexual indecency with a child, a class D felony.

The charges stem from accusations that Mitchell coerced male students into exposing their genitals and committing other sexual acts at school and on school trips from the spring of 2002 to the spring of 2004.

In addition to the felony charges, Mitchell faces eight misdemeanor charges in connection with the case.

Mitchell pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted Mitchell faces up to 96 years in prison and $106,500 in fines.

Cooper said Mitchell, who was appointed assistant principal at Melbourne High School just prior to being charged, had an excellent work record.

"He (Mitchell) was a good employee until the accusations were made," said Cooper.

Mitchell had been employed by the Melbourne School District for 6 1/2 years. Besides teaching agriculture classes, Mitchell was the head of the school's Future Farmers of America program.

Several incidents of abuse allegedly occurred on FFA trips.

Cooper would not comment as to whether Mitchell has filed any legal action as a result of his firing. Attempts to contact Mitchell and his attorneys, Gray Dellinger and Jack Lassiter, were unsuccessful.

Cooper said the school board will hire a permanent replacement for Mitchell at the next school board meeting.

"It's time for us to move forward," Cooper said.

Mitchell's trial is slated to begin in February.



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