Teacher accused of abuse Former student tells jury he fondled her

September 16, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A former Ellicott City girl testified in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday that a Mount Hebron High School teacher fondled her in the school's snack bar in March 1991.

The 17-year-old girl said the teacher hugged her from behind and fondled her breasts. As she was leaving the room, the teacher grabbed her buttocks, the girl said.

"He said that I was pretty and that I was very beautiful," the girl told the jury of eight women and four men. "He had his arms around the front of me. His hands were on my breasts."

But the teacher, Dennis Gotcher, testified that he never fondled the girl, although he said that he hugged her from behind.

"She was voicing insecurities about her looks," he told the jury. "I was trying to reassure her."

Mr. Gotcher, 50, of the 5000 block of Beatrice Way in Columbia, was a special education teacher at the time of the alleged incident on March 12, 1991. He has been charged with child abuse and fourth-degree sexual offense. Mr. Gotcher is doing administrative work in the schools pending resolution of the case.

When her fellow students teased her about being hugged by Mr. Gotcher, the girl could not tell her friends about her insecurities, defense attorney David Greenbaum said.

"What she did, ladies and gentleman, is make up a story," he said.

Testifying before Circuit Judge James B. Dudley, the girl said she went to the snack barwith a friend at about 5 p.m., after track practice. Mr. Gotcher was in the room, closing the concession stand, she said.

MTV was playing on the television, and most of the students were talking and dancing in a circle, she said. She testified that she and Mr. Gotcher were standing apart from the group.

When Mr. Gotcher put his arms around her, she told him she felt uncomfortable and tried to pull away, the girl testified. Once she got away, she said she picked up her books and left the room. As she left, the girl said, the defendant grabbed her buttocks.

The girl said she went home and told her mother about the incident. The mother and daughter went to the Police Department the next day.

Under cross-examination, the girl said the fondling lasted

about a minute. Mr. Greenbaum pointed out that a police report shows she said the embrace lasted up to five minutes.

"It felt like a long time," she responded. "I wasn't really looking at the clock."

The girl, whose family moved from Maryland last year, testified that about a half-dozen students, a track coach and a janitor were in the room at the time of the alleged incident.

Three girls testified that they saw Mr. Gotcher with his arms around the girl, but none said they saw the teacher fondle her.

Charles Martin Good, a track coach who was at the snack bar, said he also witnessed Mr. Gotcher embrace the girl but did not see him fondle her.

"You never hug from behind [a student]," he said. "It struck me as very unusual that that had happened."

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