Police: Largo teacher ordered choke hold on student
Largo High School teacher Thomas L. Farmer has been charged with child abuse after police say he allowed a student to apply a choke hold on another as a form of discipline, causing him to faint and suffer head injuries. PINELLAS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
A Largo High School teacher told a student trained in martial arts to put a 14-year-old classmate into a choke hold as part of a “malicious punishment” that left the victim unconscious and bleeding, according to police. Thomas E. Farmer, 44, who resigned his teaching position June 5, was arrested Wednesday on a felony charge of child abuse in the May 30 incident, according to Largo police. On the second-to-last day of school, Farmer told a group of students in an elective heating and air conditioning class to stop playing cards, warning them that if they didn't he would have another student physically make them, an arrest report states. The students didn't put the cards away, and Farmer followed through on his threat, according to police. The 14-year-old boy singled out for punishment was in obvious distress while being choked, but instead of stopping the altercation, police said Farmer told the boy to “tap out” — a fighting protocol where someone in a choke hold taps his opponent twice to signal defeat before losing consciousness. That didn't happen, though. Once the victim passed out, the 16-year-old boy choking him let him fall to the floor, and the boy hit his head, according to police. When the boy came to, he was bleeding from the left side of his eye and said he felt like he was going to throw up. He was upset because he didn't know where he was or what had happened to him, an arrest report says. Farmer did not seek medical attention for the boy and told him he was going to tell his parents he simply had fallen, according to police. After class, Farmer told a student to help the boy onto a school bus, where the driver realized he needed medical attention and called the campus police officer. The boy was taken to All Children's Hospital to be treated for his injuries, the arrest report says. Farmer lied to school administrators about the incident, both in a written statement and orally, telling them the boy had simply fallen, according to the report. The school district launched an investigation on May 31, but it was closed June 5 after Farmer submitted his letter of resignation, said school district spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra. Farmer had no previous disciplinary actions on his record, she said. Farmer was hired by the school district on Aug. 15, 2011, and was making $39,100 a year. Largo High School Principal Bradley Finkbiner did not return calls to talk about Farmer. Following the school district's investigation, charges of child abuse were brought to the State Attorney's Office, according to police. Farmer, of 600 Starkey Road, Apartment 717, in Largo, was released from jail Wednesday after posting $10,000 bail. He did not return a call seeking comment. Battery charges are being filed against the 16-year-old who choked the younger student, who has since recovered, according to police. Parra wouldn't comment on what action the school district might take against the older boy, saying student disciplinary information is confidential. Farmer is the second Largo High School teacher to run into legal trouble this year. In February, special education teacher Joelle Bishop was suspended after she was accused of smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol with students. On Jan. 3, Bishop, 26, allowed a male student to drive her in her car to pick up two female students and go to a friend's house, according to a memorandum from Pinellas Superintendent Michael Grego recommending she be fired. Witnesses reported seeing Bishop drinking alcohol with the two female students and smoking marijuana with all three students in her car, the document states. Bishop resigned March 21. The two teachers are not representative of others at Largo High or elsewhere in Pinellas County Schools, Parra said. “Occasionally, there's a case where a teacher might make an inappropriate decision, and any report of possible school board policy violations are investigated and taken very seriously,” Parra said.