25-year-old sex case against educator ‘Mr. Hugs’ not constrained by statute of limitations

September 3rd, 2010 by Staff

TAVARES — Previous prosecutions of a former Central Florida educator once known affectionately as “Mr. Hugs” were hampered by the state’s statute of limitations.

But that doesn’t apply in a new case because the allegation involves sexual penetration of a child, Lake sheriff’s spokesman Lt. John Herrell said.

John “Jack” Currie, 63, was returned to Lake County late last week from Tennessee, charged with capital sexual battery in an alleged attack 25 years ago. Formerly a principal at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Kissimmee and at Minneola Elementary School, Currie denied he was a child molester and professed his innocence as he was led into the Lake County Jail, where he later posted $25,000 bail.

He is accused of sexual abuse by a former student, now 31, who told sheriff’s detectives that his former principal groped and penetrated him multiple times between August 1985 and June 1986 when he was a first-grader.

Currie has been suspended indefinitely with pay from his post as an education professor at Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn., said Suzanne Richey, communications director of the private Presbyterian school. He has worked at the college since 2000. The school is awaiting the outcome of the criminal case.

A probable-cause affidavit used to obtain a warrant for Currie’s arrest alleges that the victim, a former student who was not identified, told detectives he was sodomized by Currie, who also videotaped him showering.

Currie waived extradition from Tennessee and was returned to Lake County by members of the sheriff’s fugitive-extradition squad, who had first dropped off a federal prisoner in Mississippi.

Currie earned the nickname “Mr. Hugs” while teaching in Florida because he lavished his students with affection. In a 1991 Washington Post story, he shared his belief that teachers ought to play larger roles in students’ lives and advocated that they hug students to let them know they were loved and appreciated.

He was reprimanded by the Lake school district in 1992 for giving a full-body massage in his office to a naked 7-year-old boy who was hyperactive. Yet he was honored in 1993 as one of the state’s top 15 principals. He was then charged in 1995 in Osceola County with fondling four boys, but the charges were dropped in 1997. The latest investigation was launched in May 2009.

The alleged victim told investigators that he waited so many years to come forward because he was embarrassed. Sheriff’s detectives arranged for a “controlled” telephone conversation last month between the alleged victim and Currie, who said he did not remember any specific incidents and refused to admit to them.

He nonetheless offered an apology during the call, which lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

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