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Five years and counting

By Times staff reports
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

It has been more than five years since Joseph Gatti was led away from Powell Middle School in handcuffs. The latest round of his legal saga begins Monday in Brooksville. Here is a chronology of the Gatti case:

1996

DEC. 5: Gatti is arrested at Powell Middle School. He is hit with 12 sex charges and one count of interfering with custody. Three former students accuse him of molesting them. Immediately, Gatti is suspended from teaching. He is freed six days later on $100,000 bond.

DEC. 16: An allegation surfaces that Gatti molested one of the boys on a boating trip in Citrus County, and he is charged there with another count of lewd and lascivious conduct.

1997

JAN. 30: Gatti is hit with another sex charge as prosecutors in Orange County respond to an allegation that Gatti molested Coy Burge in the parking lot at Walt Disney World. He posts $10,000 bail and is released.

MAY 27: The first of what is expected to be three trials is due to begin. But prosecutor Anthony Tatti says he has not had time to contact key witnesses. Judge William Law refuses to delay the case, and four charges are dropped.

MAY 28: Judge Law throws out another case against Gatti when prosecutors establish only that Gatti's hand brushed the crotch of a 16-year-old student who admits he first told police it was an accident. Tatti drops two more charges. After two days in court, Gatti faces only one charge in each of the three counties.

SEPT. 3: State Attorney Brad King drops the remaining charges in Hernando and Citrus counties. Tatti, his lead prosecutor, said the case could not be won -- that Coy Burge had changed his story too many times and that there was evidence his stepmother, Deborah Burge, coached his testimony.

OCT. 10: Orange County drops the last remaining charge. The prosecutor, Basil Valdivia, says the more he learned about the case, the less convincing it seemed.

OCT. 27: Gatti returns to work in a district office job, away from students.

1998

MARCH 26: The School Board asks an administrative law judge to decide whether Gatti should be fired. The hearing, conducted in May in Inverness with administrative law judge Suzanne F. Hood presiding, lasts seven days.

SEPT. 10: Hood rules there is no evidence Gatti molested the students and recommends he be returned to the classroom with back pay. The School Board later complies.

1999

NOV. 23: The Florida Department of Education files a complaint against Gatti's teaching certificate. The complaint alleges he had an improper relationship with students, that he undermined the authority of parents and failed to report a runaway. It makes no mention of the sexual misconduct.

2000

JUNE 29: With no explanation, the Department of Education dismisses its complaint but leaves open the possibility it could refile the charges.

SEPT. 10: State Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher refiles the complaint, this time with the sex allegations.

2001

JUNE 27: Hernando County Judge Peyton Hyslop dismisses a Gatti lawsuit against the Department of Education seeking to halt the latest challenge against Gatti's teaching license.

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