By JOSH NEWTON and TEDDYE SNELL
A five-year Tahlequah Middle School band director lost his job early Tuesday morning after six hours of testimony before the I-35 Board of Education.
TMS Band Director Justin Frazier apologized to TPS board members Monday night for issues that surfaced in January when he was taking prescription Xanax. But he repeatedly denied accusations that he might have taken more than $1,000 from a band room in January.
“I’ve always wanted to work at Tahlequah,” Frazier said. “It’s where I’ve always wanted to be.”
Frazier was arrested Friday, Jan. 18, in Muskogee County for possession of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of paraphernalia.
The hearing Monday evening marked the first time details of what led to Frazier’s arrest were made public. TPS Superintendent Lisa Presley had previously recommended the board terminate Frazier, and the hearing was set.
At Monday night’s hearing, TPS’ attorney – Karen Long, of Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold – indicated Frazier demonstrated erratic behavior in the days leading up to his arrest. Frazier showed up for class Jan. 16 with a bloody nose and hand, and was acting strangely, Long said.
This prompted Tahlequah High School Band Director Josh Allen to pull Frazier aside and suggest he go home for the day. Allen also reported the behavior to TMS Principal DeAnn Mashburn, who, along with Presley, met with Frazier Jan. 17 to discuss the issue.
“I understood Frazier entered the classroom [on Jan. 16] in an impaired condition, with a bloody nose and hand,” Presley testified Monday. “[During our meeting] in Mashburn’s office [the next day], Frazier shared with us he had been overwhelmed lately. He said his wife had been mean to him and was threatening divorce.”
Presley said she asked whether Frazier was taking any medication.
“At first, he said Celexa, then added another medication,” said Presley. “At the end of the meeting, we shared our concern about his ability to perform and offered him FMLA to collect himself. He assured us he could come back on Tuesday [Jan. 22]. We told him we would need a doctor’s statement and put no time limit on his leave. We would not have wanted him to be around children at that time.”
Frazier testified Monday night that he was “humiliated and horrified” when he later fully understood what had happened in class Jan. 16. He told board members he frequently has nose bleeds, a result of several surgeries he has had on his nose. But he admitted the Xanax he had been prescribed was having a bad effect on him – though he didn’t fully understand that at the time – and might have played a role in some of the decisions he made in January.
He and his wife, Tina, both testified about “stressful” times for their family, with the arrival of a baby adding to the pressure.
Frazier testified that on Friday, Jan. 18 – a day after he met with school administrators – he drove to Muskogee to get away. On his way home that day, his vehicle ran off the road. He later pulled over and got out to check his tires. A police officer pulled up behind Frazier to check on him, Frazier said.
“I was on Xanax; I wasn’t doing too good,” Frazier admitted. “All that is really kind of foggy. I remember being up against the car, being cuffed.”
According to testimony provided during Monday’s hearing, police found a loose pill in the back seat of Frazier’s car, along with a syringe.
Frazier’s attorney, Shannon Otteson-Gosa, said Frazier produced a prescription for the medication at his arraignment, and no charges were filed.
“He’s willing to stipulate he was arrested for [controlled dangerous substance],” said Otteson-Gosa. “What happened was a horrible moment in his life. His wife, Tina, was suffering post-partum depression, he had a sick baby, and he was stressed. Frazier went to a doctor who prescribed Xanax, which he took exactly as prescribed, and had a severe reaction to the drug. That’s what was going on in the days running up to his arrest. He has no clear recollection of what was happening. He was absolutely emotional and absolutely upset. He’s a career teacher with an exemplary record and is mortified at what has happened.”
Long said after Frazier was released from jail on Saturday, Jan. 19, a barrage of phone calls made to an assortment of district personnel prompted an immediate investigation by Presley, Mashburn, school resource officers and a K-9 unit.
According to testimony provided by Presley, Mashburn, Allen, intern band teacher Brandon Hall and janitor David Cline, Frazier insisted he be let into the band room Saturday evening, Jan. 19. He reportedly gave various reasons for wanting access, such as needing to get work done, to locate an electronic device, and to get his musical instrument.
It was Cline who let Frazier into the building, but Cline said he was unaware Frazier had called anyone else to get keys. He thought little of the request, and left after opening the band room door for Frazier.
Meanwhile, Allen had contacted Presley with concerns about Frazier’s behavior and requests for access.
At about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, Mashburn, Presley, Allen, School Resource Officers Brian Swim and Brian Stanglin, and a Tahlequah Police Department K-9 unit met at the TMS band room. Presley said the K-9 unit “hit” on a space in the band room, but no drugs were found.
“The SROs noticed the safe [in the band room],” said Presley. “The key was in the lock, and the safe was open. At that time, I did not know that Frazier had been there.”
According to Presley, the safe contained envelopes of money the students raised by selling candy bars. The sale of one box of candy bar totals $60, which is placed in an individual white envelope with the student’s name and the amount.
Presley and Mashburn both said a number of envelopes were found torn open and empty. After a review of the band’s receipt book, and interviews with students and parents, they determined $1,010 was missing from the school.
Presley said she didn’t believe it was possible for anyone else to have taken the money, despite several accounts of the safe’s being unlocked and open at various times.
Frazier insisted during his testimony he would never take money from the school, and said although he was described as the “custodian” of the funds, it wasn’t until a subsequent meeting that he was made aware of an investigation into the missing money.
He told the board he wanted into the band room on Saturday, Jan. 19, to get his phone charger, a movie, a coat, and his French horn.
He also testified that, while he was in the band room, he placed one envelope with $60 in fundraiser money into the safe. He said there were checks – but no other envelopes – in the safe when he closed and locked it.
Frazier said he might have been in the band room for 15 or 20 minutes, and was gone by no later than 5:50 p.m. As soon as he’d left the band room and the door had locked, he realized he left his French horn behind, and wanted to get it back – one reason he would later continue his efforts at getting into the band room.
Frazier said he placed calls to Mashburn the evening of Jan. 19 in an attempt to get his school keys, which had been left with Hall. Frazier said his wife insisted he call because the keys Hall were given also had a key to Frazier’s house, and his wife was worried about a college student having their home key.
Board members also heard from Frazier and his wife that he visited the band room frequently as his “place of refuge,” and that his being there wasn’t unusual – especially on a weekend. Frazier’s wife testified her husband’s home office was turned into a nursery, which prompted her husband to visit the band room more often.
The Fraziers testified that while they were facing some personal issues, they were not having money problems.
Testimony revealed the band student fundraiser in question began Jan. 7, and Frazier’s last day of work was Jan. 16. At no time had any deposits been made, and none of the witnesses could say they’d actually counted the alleged missing funds.
Frazier said procedures are in place for funds being deposited, but they were often overlooked because of time limits the band directors face when dealing with other priorities.
Otteson-Gosa argued the school has “poor accounting procedures,” and said Frazier is being accused of taking money only because the district found an “easy” fix to its problem.
“The school is just trying to sweep it under the rug,” Otteson-Gosa said. “It’s wrapped into a nice, easy package.”
She said it was clear Frazier was having issues with his medications, and school officials saw an opportunity to pin the missing money on him – to “put it all together, make it go away.”
“The school is trying to cover up for sloppy procedures,” she said. “The easy way out is to blame it on Justin Frazier.”
Board members went into an executive session just after 12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning and returned less than 30 minutes later, when they voted to accept Presley’s recommendation that Frazier be dismissed from TPS.