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Return takes an ugly turn
His job saved after a suspension and theft inquiry, a teacher is soon arrested.
By JOEL ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
Published January 19, 2008
Shawn Bingham, 37, was arrested Thursday shortly after he left school on a charge of driving with a suspended or revoked license.
BROOKSVILLE - Shawn Bingham feels like a marked man.
"It's kind of crazy," the Hernando High School teacher said Friday. "It feels like somebody is out there to get me, like they're trying to keep me down. It seems like they were waiting for me."
Bingham, 37, of Brooksville, was arrested Thursday shortly after he left school on a charge of driving with a suspended or revoked license.
The arrest came one day after he returned to work after a two-month suspension and a lengthy battle to save his job following an accusation that he had stolen money from a student's wallet at the school's gym.
Bingham was never arrested in the case of the alleged theft and the State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute. On Thursday, however, he was taken to the Hernando County jail on the driving charge. He went home after posting a $5,000 bond.
According to the arrest report, sheriff's Deputy Bill Pope called Brooksville police Officer Shawn Terry to tell him that Bingham was driving despite having his license revoked.
Pope told Terry that Bingham had arrived at the school Thursday driving a black Mitsubishi sport utility vehicle. Terry later drove to the high school and stopped Bingham at the intersection of Howell and North avenues.
Bingham said Friday that he recently bought the SUV and was unaware that a problem with his auto insurance policy left him uninsured in his new vehicle. He said he also was unaware that his license had been suspended as a result of the insurance mixup.
But Bingham said he can't help thinking there is more to the arrest than just an insurance snag.
"No doubt there are still some people bitter about the outcome of the theft case and that I got my job back after it was shown that they falsely accused me," he said.
Bingham, who spent much of Friday riding with his wife to the state office of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to sort out the issues with his driver's license, said he doesn't believe his problems lie with his employers.
"This wasn't anybody from the School Board," he said.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Donna Black said Pope was one of the deputies who initially investigated Bingham's alleged theft and learned about the revoked driver's license months ago.
She said it is common for law enforcement agencies to assist each other. "That's not suspicious at all," Black said.
Messages left at the office and cell phone of Brooksville police spokesman Lt. Rick Hankins were not returned Friday afternoon.
Bingham's problems began on Sept. 17 when a surveillance video showed him picking up a wallet from a bleacher in the gym and returning it a short while later. The student said $75 was missing; the tape did not show money being removed.
Last week, Bingham reached a settlement with the school district to accept a loss of two months' pay, the time of his suspension, as a penalty for not following district policy on handling lost items. The agreement came in lieu of a state hearing that could have resulted in his being fired.
On Wednesday, he returned to the school eager to straighten up his old classroom and to resume teaching his health classes. Also an assistant football coach, Bingham had missed the entire season, but at least there is the upcoming track season.
"I just want it to be like it was before all this started," he said. "I just want to teach, help these kids out and get back into coaching. You know, get back into the swing of things."
Bingham said he met with district officials Friday morning and was told he would not be punished for the arrest. He was also told to keep the district apprised of his efforts to get a new drivers' license.
"The district wants to ensure that its employees are getting to and from work safely," said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association union and Bingham's representative during the suspension. "He just wants to get back to work and put everything in the past. I know this hurts him."
Bingham simply wants a chance to start over.
"I don't want any more problems," Bingham said. "I'm not paranoid. But it's just been one thing after another."