County teacher arrested on drug charge

Friday, November 7, 2008
Robert Cooper

A Marshall County Schools special education teacher has been placed on unpaid suspension following his arrest on a charge of simple possession of marijuana while on school property.

One of the Marshall County High School lunchroom workers saw what appeared to be a partially smoked marijuana cigarette in Robert Jeffrey Cooper's hand and her observation was passed along to others at the school, according to a report filed by Sheriff's Deputy Travis Childers.

MCHS Principal Jacob Sorrells summoned the security resource officer to investigate, public records show.

The school system's human resources director declined to confirm or deny information that the teacher had the so-called roach in his hand because he'd withdrawn money from his pocket to pay for lunch.

When Sorrells first asked Cooper about the joint, "he stated that he found it on the floor in his classroom," according to the incident report filed by Childers.

However, when Sorrells asked Cooper to tell the deputy what had happened, the report goes on, "Cooper stated that it was marijuana and that he couldn't lie about it. He stated it had fallen out of his jacket and that it was his joint."

Assistant Principal Shonda Sparrow is also reported to have been a witness to Cooper's admission, the deputy's report shows.

Cooper was arrested and transported to Marshall County Jail. His bond was set at $6,000 and he has a General Sessions Court date of Nov. 18. Typically, a first appearance identifies a defendant's attorney and places on record that the defendant is pleading not guilty. Subsequently, a preliminary hearing may be held so the defense attorney may become more aware of what information the state has for prosecution. If there's to be a trial, that's typically after an indictment by the Grand Jury. Even then, a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty.

Cooper, 51, of Chapman Road, Lewisburg, worked as a special education teacher at MCHS and at Cornersville High School. At MCHS he provided behavioral intervention training (BIT). Mitch Byrd, human resources director for the school system, explained that BIT is "a special-ed title." Such employees are "working with children who have extreme learning or social disabilities."

Byrd did not confirm the name of the arrested teacher, but did issue a press release saying, "A Marshall County High School teacher was arrested (on Oct. 21) for allegedly being in possession of an illegal drug on school property. The teacher was suspended without pay pending the outcome of an investigation by local law enforcement and Marshall County Schools."

When asked what further investigation by the schools was needed, Byrd said they were in discussion with their attorney, Charles Cagle of Nashville.

According to the Board of Education's Drug-Free Workplace Policy, "Any employee who violates the terms of this policy...shall be subject to dismissal and referral for prosecution."

District Attorney General Chuck Crawford also declined to confirm or deny information about a teacher's arrest, but he did say, "I have full faith in the elected officials of Marshall County to do their duty, and I'll do mine."

Senior Staff Writer Clint Confehr contributed to this report.