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Additional battery charge added against former coach

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Former Forest Park High School basketball coach, Lawrence McGraw, is facing a second count of simple battery against a 16-year-old female student.

Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley filed a direct accusation of two counts of simple battery against McGraw in Clayton County State Court on Thursday. The same day, a magistrate judge set the former teacher's bond at $2,000, with the condition that he have no contact with the female student.

Mosley said she filed two counts of simple battery against McGraw -- instead of the one original charge filed by Forest Park Police -- because of the "he-said, she-said" accounts of what happened between the teacher and the student in a concession stand at the school on Oct. 8.

McGraw, 34, was taken into custody by the Clayton County Sheriff's Office following a pre-issuance hearing on the matter on Wednesday. Officials at the jail said he was out on bail Thursday night.

"During the pre-issuance hearing, evidence was introduced where she [the student] said he [McGraw] grabbed her by the belt, while he said he grabbed her by the arm," Mosley said. "So, one count is for the grabbing of the belt, and the other count is for grabbing her by the arm."

Mosley said the direct accusation she filed in State Court means the issue is now in the hands of Clayton County State Court Judge Harold Benefield, rather than magistrate court, where a preliminary hearing had been set for later this month.

Late Thursday afternoon, McGraw's attorney, Keith Adams, said he was puzzled by the surprise move by Mosley, and did not find out about it until after his client's appearance in magistrate court. "It's absolutely unusual that they would move this quickly to file a direct accusation," Adams said.

Mosley said she is moving swiftly in this case to avoid any emotional turmoil for the student that may be brought on by a long, drawn-out, legal process. "I want to protect her as much as possible," she said, "When I turned around after I finished with my closing remarks [at the pre-issuance hearing], I saw a mama, and her daughter, in tears, and the victim's father was visibly upset as well."

After the magistrate court appearance, Adams proclaimed his client's innocence, and said evidence, including videotapes from five surveillance cameras in the school, will help clear his client's name. McGraw plans to plead "not guilty" to the allegations made against him, his attorney said.

Adams said the student saw McGraw in a hallway at Forest Park on Oct. 8, while she was supposed to be in a science class, and asked the coach if she could use the female bathroom. In a written statement for the Forest Park police, McGraw said he was quickly approached by the student again.

"She came to me and said there was not any tissue in the girls bathroom," McGraw wrote. "I went out into the lobby area, and asked her if she could use a paper towel, or napkins. She said she didn't have a problem using either one. [The student] walked with me to the concession stand door. I unlocked the door, and she then reached in and got white napkins."

McGraw also wrote that while he was at the concession stand, he went in and looked for food and drinks that he had left there. While he was searching for the food and drinks, the student stood in the doorway and asked him for something to drink, he said. McGraw wrote that he offered the student a bottle of water, and she responded with, "I don't want any dam [sic] water."

McGraw then told police that he told the student to get some water, and grabbed her by the arm, resulting in her fall, according to his written statement.

The warrant application shows that the student told police a different version of what led to her fall. The application states that McGraw allegedly made contact with the student "by grabbing her by the belt, and pulling her toward him, at which time she pulled back, and fell to the floor. He had allegedly asked her to give him a hug, and she stated 'No' twice before he grabbed her."

Adams said McGraw then helped the student pick up her books, and walked her back to her class, and she then went to the gym with him, where she sat in the bleachers and socialized with other students.

"You're telling me she willingly went to the gym with a man who supposedly just attacked her?" Adams said. "She makes no statement that he had just attacked her to anyone during this time."

Adams said his client believed he and the student "were essentially joking around" and "that's the kind of relationship he thought they had."

A relationship, of any nature, is not something McGraw should have had with the student, Mosley said. "There is a wall that has to be maintained between a teacher and a student, and I think this wall, this line, was crossed in this case." "You're a teacher. You're not meant to be a student's friend, or their play friend," she said. "Be their teacher. Let them go home and get the hugs from their parents and their friends."

McGraw is no longer a teacher, however. He resigned from the school system in late October, when the school district was preparing to terminate his employment. Adams said the school system was going to fire his client for not supervising individuals that he was supposed to be watching when the incident with the female student occurred.

Adams did not elaborate on who those individuals were. The attorney added that in addition to being a physical education teacher at the school, McGraw was also a special education instructor.

School System Spokesman Charles White said the matter is a personnel issue, and, therefore, he could not discuss why the school system sought to terminate McGraw's employment, other than it came at the conclusion of an investigation into the incident with the female student.

Adams said his client had already been planning on resigning from his job, and moving to Alabama, before the incident happened with the student. McGraw's wife is in the terminal stages of breast cancer and is not expected to survive past the end of the year, the attorney said.