SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A teacher at a Sarasota school has been arrested following allegations that he inappropriately touched two students.
Maxwell Guss, 34, of Bradenton, was arrested Monday afternoon on two counts of Lewd and Lascivious Conduct by a Person Over 18. Guss is currently the business teacher at Brookside Middle School and has been placed on administrative leave.
While investigating the incident at Brookside Middle, detectives learned of a possible second incident and went to Sarasota High School to meet with the assistant principal. The assistant principal told detectives that in 2017, while Guss was teaching Algebra 1 at the high school, a student reported to school administrators that Guss had inappropriately touched her.
Police say that incident was not reported to law enforcement at the time and that administrators did not keep a record of the incident. Police say that has become part of their investigation.
But School Resource Officer Kimber Whyley did come forward and reported the incident at Brookside Middle to Sarasota Police. Soon After, Whyley’s attorney Sara Blackwell says her client was placed on administrative leave.
“The girls had told the SRO that they had gone to the office and told the principal and the assistant principal, but nothing was done," Blackwell said. “So the SRO went to the principal’s office and the principal’s office said, ‘We had already taken care of it. Why did you do anything? Why did you make a report? We had already looked into it and determined that nothing had happened.’”
Whyley is now filing a lawsuit against the school district, alleging retaliation.
“The principal dropped the ball and I think it was intentional, in my opinion,” Blackwell said.
But the school district says the opposite is true.
“Both the principal and the assistant principal both reported the issues to DCF [Department of Children and Families] the same day in which they learned of all the allegations from the students," refuted Tracey Beeker, Director, Communications and Community Relations for the Sarasota County School District.
The school district also says there was no complaint from 2017 that would have warranted a report to DCF or police.
“The only complaint that they had, with regards to a female student, was one student was wearing a hoodie,” explained Beeker. “She refused to take the hood off, and he swatted the hood to take the hood off for her. There was never any allegations of inappropriate conduct to our knowledge.”
Yet in their probable cause affidavit, Sarasota Police outlined what both students allege happened in Guss’s classrooms.
At Brookside Middle, a 13-year-old student told detectives on September 6, 2019 that Guss inappropriately touched her.
She reported that during class on August 28, 2019, she was wearing an oversized shirt and her bra strap had fallen off her shoulder. She said Guss placed it back on her shoulder and told her to “tighten it next time.” She said it was unwanted and made her very uncomfortable.
Two days later, the student said she was wearing a button up cardigan sweater and her bra might have been visible. She said as she entered the classroom, Guss grabbed the sweater and moved it up over the front of her bra, pushing his thumb inside her bra and touching the skin above her breast. The student said Guss did it while staring into her eyes and she was very scared. She said she told Guss to get his hands off her and he said, “It’s okay.”
The student said Guss also puts his hands over students’ hands when they’re typing or moving the mouse and that he conducts “interviews” with female students at the desk in the back of class, asking them about the sports they like, if their parents are together or divorced, if they have boyfriends, what they do for fun, etc.
The student’s mother said her daughter will be seeking counseling because she is very distraught over what she says took place.
At Sarasota High, a 16-year-old student told detectives that when she was in Guss’s class in 2017, he would come up behind female students and massage their shoulders and one time his hands came very close to her breast. She said she yelled, “What the F are you doing? Get your hands off me.”
The student also told detectives that Guss would interview female students one-on-one at his desk, asking them questions, including if they had a boyfriend. She said Guss made the female students uncomfortable and would sometimes comment on their clothing.
The student said she receives good grades in all her classes, but Guss made her so uncomfortable, she only scored a 77 in his class. Though her mother went to the school about the issue, she said the school did not take any action and she was not moved from his class.
Blackwell says to her knowledge at least six girls have come forward stating that Guss had touched them inappropriately.
“They were touched, according to the girls, on top of their shirts, under their bras,” Blackwell explained. "In various different ways. One of the girls said that he had pushed the bra, the bra strap had fallen, so he pushed it up for them.”
Guss has been on administrative leave since Sarasota Police began their investigation. He is facing two counts of Lewd and Lascivious Conduct by a Person Over 18 for the alleged incident at Brookside Middle School and Sarasota High School.
The district says it will be looking into the 2017 incident at Sarasota High to gather more information and assess next steps.
District staff have provided ABC7 with the following timeline of events and further information regarding Guss and the Student Resource Officer:
Incident regarding Mr. Maxwell Guss
• On September 4, a parent mentioned to the administrative assistant that their child felt uncomfortable around Mr. Guss. This took place as school was being dismissed – details were not provided.
• On September 5, the assistant principal followed up to the parent comment and met with their child. She interviewed several other students throughout the morning as well. All students interviewed mentioned inappropriate behavior by the teacher. These allegations were concerning enough to immediately remove Mr. Guss from the school and place him on administrative leave. The allegations were also reported to DCF by the principal and assistant principal online that afternoon. DCF notified the principal that evening that they were going to investigate this further.
• On September 6, DCF and the SPD began their investigation regarding the student allegations.
• On November 18, Mr. Guss was arrested by the SPD for lewd and lascivious behavior.
Incident regarding Officer Kim Whyley
• An unrelated incident occurred between Officer Whyley and a student on October 1. Shortly thereafter, the student’s parent asked to view video footage of the alleged incident. After viewing the video, they requested criminal charges be filed against the officer. The SCSPD turned this over to the SPD for their criminal investigation, which has concluded and is pending further review by the States Attorney’s Office.
• After the initial criminal investigation, the SCSPD began an internal affairs investigation regarding Officer Whyley – their findings are in the process of being concluded.
• Throughout the investigations, Officer Whyley has been on paid administrative leave and has not served around students.
Officer Whyley Equity complaint
• Officer Whyley has filed an equity complaint siting alleged retaliation. She has also filed an EEOC complaint.
• Per the school district’s equity procedure, the District has assembled a committee to review the facts, conduct interviews and formulate conclusions regarding the allegations.
• The committee will be meeting with several witnesses and Officer Whyley in early December to assess the complaint and make recommendations.
In the meantime, based on their investigation, police believe there may be additional victims. In addition to Sarasota High School and Brookside Middle School, Guss previously taught in Manatee County at Bayshore High School and Harlee Middle School.
Anyone with information is asked to call detectives at 941-263-6075 or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS or online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com