SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - This week, an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the Sarasota County School District’s Assistant Superintendent/Chief Operations Officer is expected to be complete.
The Sarasota County School Board hired a third party back in June to investigate the claims made by Jeffrey Maultsby’s then-assistant, Cheraina Bonner.
Cheraina Bonner’s attorney, Sara Blackwell, said this process has been emotionally exhausting for Bonner, but she’s fighting for justice so this doesn’t happen to another woman inside the school district.
As the third party’s investigation reaches its end, her boss, Jeffery Maultsby, remains on paid administrative leave, collecting a $183,000 salary.
There were 800 text messages and a video.
“It was 1 o’clock in the morning, midnight saying, ‘I miss you Ms. Reina,’" explained Sara Blackwell. "There was a video where [Jeffrey Maultsby] was dancing saying, 'I’m thinking about you, I’m missing you.’ He made it very uncomfortable for her.”
Bonner’s attorney said she endured the sexual harassment from Maultsby for eight or nine months. When she started planning to file a complaint, Maultsby found out and Bonner said he sent her a text that said “snitches get stitches” with an article about a whistleblower who was murdered.
In April, Bonner decided she had had enough and went to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and the Sarasota County School District’s Superintendent, Dr. Todd Bowden.
“She did tell Todd Bowden and showed him some of these things,” Blackwell said. "800 texts, videos, ‘snitches get stitches.’ This is enough to go after [Maultsby.]”
But Bonner’s attorney said nothing happened until the end of May when the school district announced that it would hire a third party firm to investigate her allegations. Maultsby was placed on administrative leave on June 18. Then the Sarasota County Classified Teacher’s Union said it got dragged into it, too.
“I expected to go to lunch and have a pizza at Demitrios and somehow, I became, it was thought, the cause of the investigation, which is ridiculous, of course," said Patricia Gardner, president of the Sarasota County Classified Teacher’s Union.
Bonner isn’t a member of the Teacher’s Union, but a retired assistant superintendent heard what happened to her and asked the union representatives to have a conversation with her.
“So she came over and showed us a multitude of text messages and a video and at the very least, I have to say, I was in shock,” said Gardner.
When Dr. Bowden found out about that meeting, he asked the third party to expand their investigation to include the union’s potential involvement in Bonner’s claims.
“All we said to her was, ‘Raina, you need a lawyer, you need a lawyer, you can’t do this on your own,’" Gardner said.
That investigation is what’s expected to be complete Wednesday and, according to the Sarasota County School District, made public 10 days after that. Staff said per state statute, the contents of the report are embargoed for 10 days upon notifying the people investigated and mentioned in the report.
The school district added that it will not be commenting until the moratorium is lifted, but, regardless of what it says, Blackwell is planning to file suit in the federal courts for sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation on Bonner’s behalf.
If the school district decides to respond to Blackwell’s attempts to discuss these allegations, Blackwell said she is still open to that as well.
The School District released the engagement letter signed by Vicki Sproat for the investigation. In it, it is written that Sproat Workplace Investigations (SWI) will bill Sarasota County School Board each month for services on an hourly basis. The current hourly rate for Vicki Sprat is $225 per hour. Her legal assistant time is billed at $75 per hour. It also states that “SWI bills separately for certain costs and disbursements such as document reproduction, mileage and transcriptions.” See the full letter below.