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Teacher's aide sentenced in student sex case

March 02, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

The attorney for former Boonsboro High School instructional assistant Brenda Sue Hargett, who on Tuesday avoided a jail sentence on charges stemming from her relationship with three male students, said he plans to take action against the Washington County Board of Education.

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"Our crosshairs are clearly on the School Board," said Frederick attorney Timothy Conlon after Tuesday's sentencing. "We plan to file a sexual harassment lawsuit in a few weeks."

Hargett on Tuesday was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence in Washington County Circuit Court for the criminal charges of contributing to the condition of minors.

Circuit Judge Kennedy Boone levied a $50 fine for each of six additional counts of providing alcohol to minors. To that, he added $1,125 in court costs, and ordered that all $1,425 to be paid by Sept. 3.

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Boone also ordered her to continue psychiatric counseling during her three-year probation.

"I'm not a bad person," Hargett said. "How this happened is beyond me."

She told Boone that she became depressed a year before the incidents from which the charges stemmed because of trouble at work. She said she complained to her supervisors about the boys.

"And they laughed at me," Hargett said.

Calls to Philip Ray, school board director of human resources, weren't returned.

Hargett pleaded guilty to nine counts last October in a court case laced with revelations about illicit sex and drinking alcohol in her car with several male students at the school.

"This was an unfortunate situation for which you received a fair amount of publicity," Boone told Hargett. He agreed that jail wasn't appropriate because of her previously clean record.

Dr. Charles Cantone, a psychologist with an expertise in psycho-sexual dysfunction, testified that Hargett was more of a victim than an aggressor.

"She had a major depression, probably for years, that caused a severely damaged self-image," Cantone said.

Because of that, he said Hargett often would acquiesce when she felt threatened.

"She was groomed in a way," Cantone said, speaking of her relationships with the teenage boys.

The alleged incidents occurred in February and March of 1998, according to Deputy Pete Lazich of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

On March 31, the sheriff's department was asked to investigate allegations that Hargett had sexual intercourse with two students and had furnished alcohol to at least one student, according to charging documents.

The allegations came from a school secretary, Deanna Casto, who was fired shortly after bringing the matter to the attention of school officials. The Maryland State Board of Education recently upheld her dismissal.

Police interviewed a 10th grade boy who told them he had fondled Hargett during private tutoring sessions in the school cafeteria.

Hargett told Casto she kissed the boy on March 19, 1998, the day after his 16th birthday, according to court records.

Three days later, she had sex with him and a 17-year-old in the older boy's car, and had sex with the older boy four days later, the documents alleged.

Hargett told a deputy that both boys drank beer in the car but she didn't have any. She also admitted she let another 17-year-old sip from a cup of orange juice and champagne in her car after a basketball game, according to the charging documents.

She admitted to Lazich that she told Casto she'd had sex with the two boys but said she was only joking, charging documents said.

As the interview continued, she admitted she'd had sexual intercourse with the two boys, saying they talked her into it, Lazich said in an application for statement of charges.

Hargett, of 9502 Crystal Falls Drive, could have faced a maximum sentence of nine years in prison and fines of more than $10,000.

Hargett, who had worked for the school system for about two years, was dismissed from her job on March 31, 1998, less than 24 hours after allegations of inappropriate behavior were brought to the attention of school officials.

"I am so sorry for what this has done," Hargett said. "Even after today, I will never be over this."

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