By JOSH NEWTON
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 for issues that surfaced in January when he was taking prescription Xanax. He repeatedly denied accusations that he might have taken more than $1,000 from a band room in January, and asked the Board of Education to let him keep his job. He promised he would be willing to meet the recommendations set forth in a plan created by TMS Principal DeAnn Mashburn. He said he is no longer taking Xanax.
“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 based on the school’s findings.
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. School administrators also argue Frazier had exercised poor judgment, and had been late for work several times.
Frazier admitted during his testimony he had lied on at least one occasion, and he apologized for doing so. He acknowledged that what happened at the school in January was “embarassing” to the district and to his family.
Frazier testified Monday night that he was “humiliated” and “horrified” when he fully understood what had happened in class Jan. 16. 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.
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 during Monday’s hearing, police found a loose pill in the back seat of Frazier’s car, along with a syringe. He produced a copy of his prescription during an arraignment in January, and charges were not filed against him.
School administrators said Monday that some amount of money – they believe about $1,010 – was taken from the TMS band room. School personnel testified Frazier called several employees on Saturday, Jan. 19, after he was released from jail in Muskogee, and gave varying reasons for needing to get into the band room. Frazier eventually got into the band room, and testified he placed an envelope with $60 of fundraiser money into the safe, then locked it and removed the key. He said there were no other envelopes in the safe, but there were some checks.
According to testimony from school officials, they went to the band room less than two hours after Frazier had been inside, and found seven empty envelopes in the safe. Each envelope should have contained $60, according to testimony given Monday night.
Frazier’s attorney, Shannon Otteson-Gosa, argued the school has “poor accounting procedures,” and said Frazier is 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.