Mount Hebron High School teacher acquitted of sex abuse charges No fondling seen, witnesses testified

September 20, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A Mount Hebron High School teacher has been acquitted of charges that he fondled a 15-year-old girl.

A jury of eight women and four men reached its not-guilty verdict for Dennis Gotcher, 50, following about seven hours of deliberationon Wednesday. The trial in Howard County Circuit Court lasted three days.

Mr. Gotcher, of the 5000 block of Beatrice Way, was charged with battery and two counts each of child abuse and fourth-degree sexual offense.

Circuit Judge James B. Dudley dismissed an assault charge, and the Howard State's Attorney's Office dropped two counts each of child abuse and perverted sexual practice.

The girl, now 17, testified that Mr. Gotcher hugged her from behind and fondled her breasts in a snack bar managed by the teacher on March 12, 1991. As she was leaving the room, Mr. Gotcher grabbed her buttocks, the girl said.

The student, who has since moved from Maryland, said the incident happened after she finished the daily practice for the track team and went to the snack bar with friends.

But Mr. Gotcher told the jury that he never fondled the girl, although he said he hugged her from behind.

The teacher testified that he was trying to reassure the girl, who had voiced "insecurities" about her appearance.

Defense attorney David Greenbaum said he believes the girl made up the story after other students teased her about Mr. Gotcher hugging her.

A track coach and three other students who were in the room at the time testified that they saw Mr. Gotcher put his arms around the girl. None said they saw any fondling by Mr. Gotcher.

Mr. Gotcher, a special education teacher, is assigned to the special education department at the school system's central office, pending an administrative review of the case, school spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.

The proceedings generally include a review of the case evidence to determine what response -- ranging from no action, to permanent transfer or dismissal -- is necessary, Ms. Caplan said.

"We want to make a decision as soon as possible for [Mr. Gotcher's] sake," she said.

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