A Howard County teacher has been placed on administrative assignment after being charged with fondling a 15-year-old Mount Hebron High School student in the school's snack bar while other students watched.
Dennis Gotcher, 49, of the 5000 block of Beatrice Way, Columbia, was freed on his own recognizance yesterday by a county District Court commissioner. He was charged with child abuse and a fourth-degree sexual assault.
The girl told police that Gotcher approached her in the snack bar about 5 p.m. March 12 during an after-school event and hugged her from behind. She said he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her body against him in an embrace that lasted about 20 minutes.
At one point, according to the charging document, she told Gotcher that she was uncomfortable, but he continued to hold her. He made indecent references to her breasts and rocked her back and forth to music that was played in the background, she told police.
The statement said that he remarked: "I would like to see you grow up." As she turned to leave, she said, Gotcher grabbed her buttocks.
She told police that she didn't like the fondling, but felt that she was unable to stop it. Gotcher was responsible for monitoring the snack bar, according to the court document.
Gotcher, a special education teacher, has taught at Mount Hebron since 1977. His attorney, David A. Greenbaum, said Gotcher was shocked when he read the girl's allegations and "vehemently denies" them.
"We're just looking forward to an opportunity to clear his name on this," said Greenbaum, of the Towson law firm, Jensen, Morrow & Hassani.
Gotcher was arrested in 1978 on sexual-assault charges in connection with the fondling of three 13-year-old girls in Columbia. He was a county teacher at the time.
In that incident, he and the victims agreed to have the cases placed on the District Court's stet docket, a move that allowed the charges to be dropped after a year if he received counseling and no other violations occurred. He has not had any related charges to this point.
"This is the first we've heard of that case," said Patti Vierkant, a county public schools spokeswoman. "There's been such a turnover over the years that no one here is aware of that."
Vierkant said officials may review the 1978 charges.
She said Gotcher has been removed from Mount Hebron and will work at school district headquarters pending the court's disposition of the new charges.