Report: East Forsyth coach, SRO recorded threatening, cursing at student
A popular East Forsyth High School coach and a school police officer were recorded confronting a 15-year-old student in a profanity-laden tirade that included threats to financially ruin the boy’s family because he questioned how many texts the men sent to a 16-year-old female student.
This article is from our newsgathering partners at the Winston-Salem Journal.
The coach, Mike Muse, says in the Jan. 19 recording that he texted the girl only because he was concerned about her grades. In the recording, Kernersville Police Officer James Deeney warns the boy that a student who accused another popular East Forsyth teacher of sexual misconduct couldn’t return to campus because other students would beat him up.
Muse told the Winston-Salem Journal on Wednesday that he spoke in anger and has apologized and been disciplined. Deeney declined to comment.
The boy, Dillon Tschrnko, used his cell phone to make an audio recording of the confrontation with Muse and Deeney. His parents, Klaus and Marsha Tschrnko, made the recording public because they said the school system appeared to be taking no action.
The confrontation happened Jan. 19 in the East Forsyth cafeteria after the female student told Muse and Deeney that Dillon Tschrnko was telling other students that the volume of texts between the two adults and the girl was “weird.”
The girl’s name is being withheld because she could not be located for comment.
In the recording, Muse tells the boy:
“It’s not a good time to be making jokes and making accusations like that around this school. Do you understand that? And unless you got some proof, you better have one hell of a (expletive) lawyer, you understand me? ’Cause I got the best in town, and I will sue you if I can find information for libel and for (expletive) slander, and I will take you and your parents for every ounce of money, house, home, whatever you got. I will go after you. Do you understand that? So bring it up again, and you will be mine. Do you hear me? You don’t know me that well. You better not judge me like that. I’m a God-fearing Christian man, who has a wife and kids. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to throw away my reputation over 50 years and a career over sleeping with some high school kid.”
‘I cussed a kid’
Muse said Wednesday night that he let his anger get the best of him. He said he had apologized to both Dillon and his parents.
“I’m a good Christian man who’s worked hard to make a living and to raise a family and to treat kids the right way,” Muse said, his voice breaking. “And did I commit a sin? Yeah. I cussed a kid, and I shouldn’t have done it. And I’ve apologized for it, and I have been disciplined for it, and I’ve learned a valuable lesson.”
Muse said he was “not at liberty to discuss” his disciplinary action. He worked Wednesday. Muse coaches the girls softball team at East Forsyth and is the assistant basketball coach for the boys team at Mount Tabor High School.
The school system does not have a policy about whether school employees can exchange text messages with students. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools spokesman Theo Helm said texting is “discouraged, but not prohibited.”
The Tschrnkos said Wednesday they brought the recording to East Forsyth Principal Patricia Gainey on Jan. 20. They have moved their son to another high school.
“(Muse) bullied and threatened, and now my son has had to leave his school,” Marsha Tschrnko said. “And the authority who was supposed to protect him – the police officer – was threatening him.”
Deeney, who was working at East Forsyth on Wednesday, said he would like to comment on the incident, but could not without permission from Kernersville Police Chief Ken Gamble, who did not return calls Wednesday.
“I’d love to (comment) – I’m serious,” Deeney said. “I’d love to get my side out there.”
In January, a video circled through social media showing Deeney using his Taser to subdue a student during a fight at East Forsyth. Gamble said at the time that Deeney acted appropriately and would not be disciplined.
Gainey referred questions to Helm, who said he could not comment on personnel actions.
“We are aware of it, and we are addressing it,” Helm said.
Helm said the school system does not deny the authenticity of the recording. He said the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education would ultimately decide whether and how to discipline Muse, but that a recommendation for such discipline would come from Superintendent Don Martin and Muse’s supervisors.
“Teachers and all employees are expected to act professionally at all times, through school email or a text or a phone call or face-to-face,” Helm said.
The school board next meets on Feb. 13; Helm said school employees faced with disciplinary action have the right to appeal that action before the board makes a decision, meaning any action taken against Muse could be several months away.
Reputations at stake
In the tape, Muse does not deny texting the girl and says he often texts other students.
“As a coach, I don’t have that right to be concerned with my players’ life and grades? ’Cause that’s the only reason I text her,” he tells Dillon. “And if you have a problem with that, you need to be (expletive) man enough to come look me in the face and say something. I don’t go around talking (expletive) about you. Do I? Do I? And you wanna make accusations about me, you be man enough and have testicles enough to come do it to my (expletive) face. You got me? Cause I don’t take kindly to that.”
Later in the recording, Deeney tells Tschrnko that the student whose accusations led police to arrest another teacher earlier in the school year “can’t come on the campus anymore.”
That teacher, Winston Stephens Jr., was charged in December with taking indecent liberties with a male student. Stephens resigned from the school. His court case is pending.
“There’s a ton of kids that want to jump that student and beat the ever-living crap out of that student because Mr. Stephens was well-liked, well-loved,” Deeney says in the recording. “He did break the law. And I think it sucks that a student can’t come back here. But he can’t, for his own safety.”
At points during the hour-long discussion, both Deeney and Muse express concern for the boy and tell him they only confronted him to teach him a lesson.
“You’re not just playing high school drama now. You’re playing adult games,” Muse says in the recording. “And those games cost people families, lives, jobs, careers, reputations. Is that what you really want to do?”
Other teachers can be heard in the background throughout the recording making sarcastic comments toward the boy. Scott Munsie, an assistant principal, was sitting at the table during the discussion, Muse and the Tschrnkos said.
‘It was weird’
Dillon Tschrnko speaks in the recording only to defend his concerns for the girl both were texting.
“I didn’t make any accusations” he says, repeating that idea throughout the recording. “I just said it was weird. That’s all I said.”
Dillon’s parents said they played the recording for Gainey at the school on Jan. 20.
“She listened to about 10 minutes of it, and she said, ‘Oh my, that’s enough. Can I have a copy of that?’” Marsha Tschrnko said. She said Gainey came to their home Jan. 23 and picked up three copies of the recording.
The Tschrnkos said they last spoke with Gainey on Jan. 25, when she told them the Kernersville Police Department reviewed the recording, found nothing criminal and closed the case.
“Then she said the school board, they’re not sure they’re going to do anything or not,’” Marsha Tschrnko said. She said Gainey told them she was not allowed to discuss personnel actions.
Since then, the Tschrnkos said, they have heard nothing.
Muse, who also teaches gym and health, said Wednesday he would be at East Forsyth teaching today. According to school system records, he earned about $65,500 in the 2010-11 school year between his teaching salary and coaching supplements.
Muse’s lawyer, Mike Grace, said Muse panicked when he believed the boy was telling other students that Muse had an inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl.
“I listened to the tape, and some of the things shouldn’t have been said,” Grace said. “But given the context, I could understand how a good man could panic and not want to lose everything he’s worked for, his reputation, his family, his career, over some 16-year-old spreading rumors about him.”