Former Azle band director acquitted of misdemeanor

Former Azle High School band director Ross Grant was acquitted of a misdemeanor charge that he did not inform police after a 14-year-old student reported being molested by an older student during a 2008 band trip.

But Grant won't get his job back -- at least until the district and state complete their investigations, officials said Monday.

Grant, 55, was arrested in May after the girl, 16, told police that a male band member had touched her inappropriately during an October 2008 band trip.

The girl said she promptly told Grant what happened, but police weren't notified until she told her parents in April.

Grant was placed on administrative leave with pay while authorities pursued a charge of failure to report child abuse, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

During a two-day trial last week in Tarrant County Criminal Court 8, the girl testified that the boy, then 17, put his hand inside her shorts as they rode a bus to a band contest. She said she told senior band member Cody Keeble, who went with her to report the incident to Grant.

But Grant testified that, after Keeble told him what the girl had said, he asked the girl whether the boy had touched her below the waist or inside her clothes. The girl shook her head no to both questions, he said.

A six-member jury deliberated about 35 minutes before returning a not guilty verdict Wednesday.

Grant declined to comment Monday, deferring comment to his attorney, Mark Daniel.

Daniel said jurors weighed the testimony of 18 witnesses and reached a verdict despite a confusing law.

"The law is confusing, but that's not what led to the verdict," Daniel said. "I believe that the jury saw nothing in his conduct that was criminal. This was a misuse of the law."

Prosecutor Lesley Sylvan contended that the law required Grant to report what the girl said if he had "cause to believe" that she had been or might have been abused. Daniel contended that the law required Grant to believe that she had been abused before making a report.

Judge Daryl Coffey told jurors that they could interpret the law either way.

"There certainly is a gray area in the law," Sylvan said. "I certainly hope the Legislature addresses that."

Educators and other professionals are required to report abuse. But Keeble, who was 18 at the time, could also have been charged with failure to report child abuse.

"Our position is that the burden fell on the adults to step in and do the correct thing," Azle Police Chief Steve Myers said.

The accused teenager has not been charged, but Myers said he expects to seek an arrest warrant within a week. He declined to identify the teen.

Continuing inquiries

The day after Grant's acquittal, Azle school officials posted an announcement on the district website explaining Grant's status with the district.

The notice said Grant is no longer under contract with the district because he did not sign and return his renewal contract by the April 23 deadline.

Assistant band director Chris Goodwin is interim director. The district has accepted Grant's application to get his job back, but the notice said he would not be hired until district and Texas Education Agency investigations are completed.

"We have never hired a person who had such action pending," the posting said. "This delay allowed time for those issues to be resolved."

Grant has been certified as a music teacher since 1979.

His case is under review by the State Board of Education's Professional Discipline Unit, and he could be sanctioned by the agency even if he is cleared of criminal charges, TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said.

Jay Brim, Grant's attorney for the state investigation, said the state board will interview Grant next week.

Brim said Grant hopes that the matter will be resolved soon so that his online file will no longer state that he is being investigated.

"It's important to get this decided and get that flag off his certificate," Brim said. "In many cases, being sanctioned is not as devastating as the flag itself. No responsible district is going to hire someone that might be uncertified."

Martha Deller, 817-390-7857