Complaints against coach go back years

Published May 12, 2007

TAMPA - Tampa Preparatory School had heard complaints about the popular swim coach for years.

But it took his arrest last January to publicly expose the school's private handling of concerns about his behavior toward young teen girls.

Here's what court documents released Friday show:

In early November, school officials searched his computer and found pictures of teen girls wearing only shirts and underwear.

Head of school D. Gordon MacLeod did not call police.

He left a note on coach Kimberly Brabson III's computer: "Kim, Please erase all pictures of girls from this computer. Thanks. Gordon."

Days later, police arrived, acting on a tip from someone else. They found that whoever had used the computer had searched 316 times for "erotic," 432 times for "amateur" and 35 times for "underage." Under favorite Web sites, they found "nude cheerleaders, schoolgirls and teens."

Police arrested Brabson, 29, on multiple felony counts of promoting sexual performance of a child and lesser offenses. He has been released on $95,000 bail while awaiting trial.

Brabson declined to comment Friday. His attorney, Eddie Suarez, also had little to say about the documents. "They are what they are," he said.

The school and Brabson are also facing four lawsuits in the matter.

Clearwater attorney Tom Carey's two daughters filed the first suit, saying the school failed to protect them and ignored Brabson's behavior despite numerous warnings.

"The big surprise was the magnitude of the problem and how long the school knew about it and how," Carey said. "The inaction on the part of the school in this matter, in particular Gordon MacLeod, is inexcusable."

On Friday, MacLeod said he knew nothing of the note left on Brabson's laptop.

"No idea what you're talking about, and I'm not going to answer because of the lawsuit," he said.

The school's attorney, Mark Hartig, said administrators didn't call police because they were still conducting their own investigation. School officials believed the photos in Brabson's computer were of adult women, but the school director of technology, who found them, told police otherwise, according to the court records.

Brian Oestreich said the girls looked to be 14 to 16 years old and that he found the content to be indecent under the school's rules, according to the court file.

"They're confident they've done everything appropriate in this matter," Hartig said. "Well, obviously, if they knew then what they know now, things would have been done differently."

MacLeod, who has announced he is leaving Tampa Prep this year for unrelated reasons, has previously said Brabson showed no pattern of problematic behavior.

But the records released Friday show that school psychologist Stacey Scheckner told police that the director of athletics knew about an "incident" involving Brabson in 2003. In 2004, the dean of faculty was told of another "incident," she said.

She also told police she felt her job was in jeopardy and that she disagreed with MacLeod's version of the events that led to Brabson's suspension.

She did not elaborate on her concerns or the incidents.

In 2005, the parents of a student raised concerns about Brabson. They told administrators the coach had asked their daughter to try on swimsuits in his office. The odd thing was, she wasn't on the swim team.

Administrators investigated, and, according to the court records, Brabson told them he made a mistake.

"He conducted this inappropriately, and he knows it, admits it and will never do it again," wrote school official Peter Shepley.

Then, in November 2006, another complaint.

This time, dean of faculty Donald Morrison received an anonymous call from the mother of a current Tampa Prep student. The woman was hesitant and said her daughter had begged her not to call, but she thought it was important.

Brabson had asked the girl to try on a swimsuit, and he specified that she should take off her bra, the mother said.

Morrison sent other administrators an e-mail, which was included in the released court records.

"I will tell him that he is putting both his career and the School in serious jeopardy," he wrote.

Administrators began an investigation on Nov. 2.

While Brabson was in Fort Lauderdale at a state swim meet, they searched his office. They later told police they found nothing suspicious.

Brabson was suspended and sent to a psychologist, who recommended medical treatment.

"He should not conduct work on or off campus pending a fitness-for-duty evaluation, " wrote psychologist Gary Wood. The letter is dated Nov. 7.

School officials never called police, but the next day someone else did.

Police came to the campus and searched Brabson's office and computer. They found a Web cam, pictures of topless women in Brabson's desk drawer and a videotape of girls in the nude.

Brabson's wife, Blaire Brabson, then several months pregnant with the couple's second child, told police her husband bought the Web cam when the two were dating long-distance, to ease communication.

The court records show Brabson's wife also told police she was worried that the couple's child might be among those on the videotape.

After he was arrested, Brabson declined to answer investigators' questions and asked for his attorney, saying only that, "I have a family to look out for. I don't want anything traumatic for them."

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.