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«In the Matter of the Tenure Hearing of Mark C. Bringhurst, School District of the City of Vineland, Cumberland County, Agency Dkt. No. 236-8/12 ...»

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__________________________________________________________________________

In the Matter of the Tenure Hearing of Mark C. Bringhurst, School District of the

City of Vineland, Cumberland County, Agency Dkt. No. 236-8/12

__________________________________________________________________________

DECISION

Before

Robert C. Gifford, Esq.

Arbitrator

Appearances:

For the Vineland Board of Education:

Robert A. De Santo, Esq.

Gruccio Pepper De Santo & Ruth

For Mark C. Bringhurst:

Robert J. Bowman, Esq.

Schroll & Bowman Vineland City Board of Education [“Board” or “Petitioner”], pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:6-10 et. seq., certified tenure charges with the Commissioner of Education alleging that Mark C. Bringhurst [“Bringhurst” or “Respondent”] had committed acts of unbecoming conduct of a teaching staff member. The Board seeks to remove the Respondent from his tenured position. Respondent generally does not deny the underlying facts of this matter but seeks to be reinstated to his former teaching position.

On September 13, 2012, I received notice from M. Kathleen Duncan, the Director of the Bureau of Controversies and Disputes, New Jersey Department of Education, that this matter was referred to me pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:6-16 as amended by P.L. 2012, c. 26.

On October 18, 2012, a hearing was held in Vineland, New Jersey. During the proceedings, the parties were given the opportunity to argue orally, examine and cross-examine witnesses and submit documentary evidence into the record. Testimony was received from Joseph Rossi – Executive Director of Personnel for the Vineland School District, Sergeant Gary Sheehan – Berlin Township Police Department, and the Respondent. The parties submitted posthearing briefs on or before October 31, 2012. The record was closed upon receipt of the parties’ briefs.

ISSUE

The parties stipulated to the following issue:

Whether the conduct of Mr. Bringhurst constitutes unbecoming conduct under the tenure law thus warranting his termination and his forfeiture of his teaching certificate? If not, what shall be the remedy?

RELEVANT PROVISIONS OF THE NEW JERSEY STATUTES

N.J.S.A. 18A:6-10. Dismissal and reduction in compensation of persons under tenure in public school system No person shall be dismissed or reduced in compensation, (a) if he is or shall be under tenure of office, position or employment during good behavior and efficiency in the public school system of the state, or (b) if he is or shall be under tenure of office, position or employment during good behavior and efficiency as a supervisor, teacher or in any other teaching capacity in the Marie H. Katzenbach school for the deaf, or in any other educational institution conducted under the supervision of the commissioner;

except for inefficiency, incapacity, unbecoming conduct, or other just cause, and then only after a hearing held pursuant to this subarticle, by the commissioner, or a person appointed by him to act in his behalf, after a written charge or charges, of the cause or causes of complaint, shall have been preferred against such person, signed by the person or persons making the same, who may or may not be a member or members of a board of education, and filed and proceeded upon as in this subarticle provided.

Nothing in this section shall prevent the reduction of the number of any such persons holding such offices, positions or employments under the conditions and with the effect provided by law.

–  –  –

The Respondent has 11 years of teaching experience and has been a teacher in the Vineland School District for approximately 8 years. During the 2011-2012 school year, the Respondent taught 5th grade students at the Winslow Elementary School within the Vineland Public Schools. That year, he was named by his co-workers as Teacher of the Year. The Board confirmed “that Respondent does not have any significant disciplinary history”. [Board Brief, p.

7].

On March 21, 2012, the Respondent was arrested by the Berlin Township Police Department in West Berlin, New Jersey. He was charged with the fourth degree crime of Lewdness. [See N.J.S.A. 2C:14-4A]. The Complaint-Summons prepared by the arresting officer, Berlin Township Police Sergeant Gary Sheehan,

indicates:

–  –  –

GREENWAY VILLAGE APARTMENT PARKING LOT IN THE NUDE

AT AN HOUR WHEN PEOPLE WOULD BE LIKELY TO SEE HIM.

PROBABLE CAUSE HAS BEEN FOUND FOR THE ISSUANCE OF THIS

COMPLAINT

P/C: DEFENDANTS TAPED STATEMENT

[Ex. J-3].

Sergeant Sheehan prepared a written investigation report. It provides:

MO: ACCUSED RAN NAKED THROUGH GREENWAY

APARTMENTS PARKING LOT IN THE PRESENCE OF OTHERS.

ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2012 AT 2033 HOURS THIS

OFFICER WAS DISPATCHED TO GREENWAY VILLAGE

APARTMENTS FOR A REPORT OF A MALE RUNNING THROUGH

THE PARKING LOT NAKED. UPON MY ARRIVAL I OBSERVED





THERE WERE MULTIPLE PEOPLE WALKING AROUND THE

COMPLEX AS IT WAS NOT LATE AND IT WAS A WARM NIGHT.

THE MALE IN QUESTION WAS GONE, BUT I SPOKE WITH THE

CALLER/WITNESS, MARIO CARDENAS. CARDENAS DESCRIBED

THE MALE AS WHITE, APPROXIMATELY 40 YEARS OF AGE AND

BALDING. HE SAID HE LEFT THE COMPLEX IN A SILVER, 4 DOOR,

FORD ESCORT, WITH PARTIAL NJ TAG UFL OR UFE AND TURNED

RIGHT ONTO NORTH RT73. CARDENAS FURTHER STATED THAT

THIS WAS NOT THE FIRST TIME THE SUBJECT RAN NAKED

THROUGH THE PARKING LOT. HE SAID HE DID NOT CALL

POLICE THE FIRST TIME AND WAS UNSURE EXACTLY WHEN IT

HAPPENED. HE SAID THE REASON HE CALLED THIS TIME IS

BECAUSE THERE WERE CHILDREN IN THE AREA AND HE WAS

CONCERNED FOR THEIR SAFETY. A PICK UP AND HOLD WAS

BROADCASTED BY CENTRAL COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE

INFORMATION PROVIDED.

AFTER LEAVING GREENWAY APARTMENTS I DECIDED TO

CHECK THE TWO ADULT BOOKSTORES ON RT 73. THE FIRST WAS

THE RED BARN BOOK STORE, WHICH IS LOCATED NORTH OF

GREENWAY AND IS IN THE DIRECTION THE SUBJECT REPORTED

AS HEADING. I LOCATED, IN THE LOT, A VEHICLE MATCHING

THE DESCRIPTION PROVIDED BY CARDENAS. THE VEHICLE WAS

A SILVER 2 DOOR FORD ESCORT WITH NJ REGISTRATION

UFE69C. A CHECK OF THE VEHICLE SHOWED IT WAS

REGISTERED TO A MARK BRINGHURST, A 40 YEAR OLD MALE

FROM BERLIN. OFFICER MURRAY AND I WENT INSIDE THE BOOK

STORE AND FOUND A SUBJECT MATCHING THE DESCRIPTION

GIVEN BY CARDENAS. THE MALE IDENTIFIED HIMSELF AS MARK

BRINGHURST. HE WAS ESCORTED OUTSIDE WHERE WE

CONFIRMED THAT THE VEHICLE WE FOUND PARKED IN THE LOT

WAS INDEED HIS. BRINGHURST WAS MIRANDIZED AND THEN

ASKED WHERE HE WAS PRIOR TO COMING TO THE BOOK

STORE. AT FIRST HE DENIED BEING IN GREENWAY, BUT LATER

ADMITTED TO BEING THERE AND RUNNING NAKED THROUGH

THE PARKING LOT IN THE NUDE. HE SAID HE DID IT ON A DARE.

AT THIS POINT BRINGHURST WAS ARREST AND TRANSPORTED TO

POLICE HEADQUARTERS, HIS VEHICLE WAS IMPOUNDED BY

RHP.

ONCE AT POLICE HEADQUARTERS I INTERVIEWED BRINGHURST

ABOUT THE INCIDENT. THE INTERVIEW BEGAN AT

APPROXIMATELY 2120 HOURS AND WAS RECORDED FROM

START TO FINISH. I BEGAN BY AGAIN ADVISING BRINGHURT OF

HIS MIRANDA RIGHTS. BRINGHURST STATED HE UNDERSTOOD

AND THEN SIGNED A MIRANDA WARNING CARD STATING

SAME. BRINGHURST STATED HE DID RUN THROUGH THE

PARKING LOT NAKED, BUT HAD NO INTENTION OF LETTING

ANYONE SEE HIM. WHEN ASKED WHY HE DID IT, HE SAID HE DID

IT ON A DARE. HE EXPLAINED HE MET SOMEONE ONLINE WHO

LIKES TO DARE HIM TO RUN THROUGH SOME SORT OF PARKING

LOT NAKED. I ASKED HIM IF THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME HE DID A

STUNT LIKE THIS IN GREENWAY AND HE SAID NO, HE HAD DONE

THE SAME THING ABOUT A YEAR AGO, ALSO ON A DARE. I

ASKED WHY HE CHOSE GREENWAY AND HE TOLD ME THE FIRST

TIME HE DID IT HE JUST HAPPENED TO BE NEAR THERE WHEN HE

WAS DARED. HE SAID ON THIS OCCASION HE DID IT OUT OF

FAMILIARITY. HE SAID HE KNEW FROM LAST TIME THERE WAS

AN AREA HE COULD PARK WHERE HE MIGHT NOT BE SEEN. HE

THEN DESCRIBED TO ME WHERE HE PARKED AND THE AREA HE

RAN IN WHILE NAKED. BRINGHURST STATED HE NEVER MEANT

FOR ANYONE TO SEE HIM AND HE WAS SORRY IF SOMEONE

DID. I ASKED HIM WHY HE STOPEED AT THE BOOK STORE AND

THE ONLY REASON HE GAVE WAS THAT IT WAS ON HIS WAY

HOME. (THE BOOK STORE IS LOCATED NORTH OF GREENWAY

AND HIS HOME IS LOCATED SOUTH OF GREENWAY). DURING

THE INTERVIEW BRINGHURST MADE MENTION THAT HE IS AN

–  –  –

By letter dated June 28, 2012, School Business Administrator Cherie Ludy sent the Respondent a written copy of tenure charges against him as well as the written statement of evidence. [Ex. J-1]. The written charges were sworn to

under oath by School Superintendent Mary Gruccio on June 27, 2012:

–  –  –

with the Berlin Township Police Department relating to the arrest of Mark C. Bringhurst for lewdness. The Certification and Police Records are hereby filed simultaneously herewith and incorporated by reference herein. (See Exhibit A attached).

–  –  –

Mr. Brinhurst is a teacher employed by the VBE and is currently assigned to Winslow Elementary School for the 2011school year.

On or about March 21, 2012, Mr. Bringhurst was arrested by the Berlin Township Police Department of West Berlin, New Jersey and charged with a violation of the New Jersey Criminal Code, specifically, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-4A: Lewdness.

Lewdness is a crime of the fourth degree. (A true and correct copy of the statute is attached hereto as Exhibit B) On or about March 22, 2012, I received a copy of the

Complaint and Summons which alleged the following:

“Defendant (Bringhurst) on or about 3/21/12 in Berlin Township, Camden County, NJ did within the jurisdiction of this court, perform a flagrantly lewd and offensive act by exposing his genitals for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of of (sic) defendant or another, knowing or reasonably expecting that the act was likely to be observed by a nonconsenting person who would be alarmed specifically by running around greenway village apartment lot in the nude at an hour when people would be likely to see him.” (A true and correct copy of the Complaint-Summons is attached hereto as Exhibit C).

A copy of the investigation report provides a complete account of events that took place on March 21, 2012. (Ex. A) In the investigation report, Mr. Bringhurst admitted to Sergeant Gary Sheehan that he did run through the parking lot of Greenview Village Apartments naked but he had no intention of letting anyone see him. When asked why he did it he explained he did it on a dare. Mr. Bringhurst told Sgt.

Sheehan that he met someone online who likes to dare him to do things and this person dared him to do this stunt. He

–  –  –

disposition of the charges against him. The attached letter dated June 12, 2012 by the counselor was submitted to the court and his final appearance before the court was July 12, 2012.

In court on July 12, 2012, the Prosecutor recommended, and the court agreed, that the original charges against Mr.

Bringhurst be amended to a Municipal Charge #87-2 “Acting in an Improper Manner” and Mr. Bringhurst pleaded guilty to that charge. Mr. Bringhurst acknowledged his conduct and understood that a repeat occurrence would subject him to much more significant penalties in the future While we fully acknowledge the Board’s obligation to determine what behavior can or cannot be tolerated by the district, we respectfully request that the Board take into consideration all of the facts and circumstances prior to rendering a decision to dismiss Mr. Bringhurst from his position.

While Mr. Bringhurst acted in an arguably improper manner, which human beings tend to do from time to time, he immediately sought assistance from his pastor and those to whom his pastor referred him. For the past ninety days he has participated in counseling sessions exploring the roots of his behavior and has embarked on a course of accountability to prevent the behavior from reoccurring.



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