Charges against Herron Gaston, a former Yale Divinity School student who was suspended after his arrest for custodial sexual battery last fall, were dropped Oct. 5 to the “disappointment” of investigators.
Gaston was accused of committing custodial sexual battery against a 17-year-old student he mentored in the summer of 2010 at Upward Bound, a college counseling program at the University of South Florida. Gaston’s case was dismissed because of depositions from his coworkers, who argued that he was never in a position of custodial authority over the victim, Gaston said.
“I never violated the law,” Gaston said, adding that he was “shocked” when he first heard of the charges.
In accordance with Florida law, the illegality of the charges of custodial sexual battery does not stem from sexual acts alone but rather from Gaston’s alleged custody over the student during the Upward Bound program, said Mark Cox, spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office of the 13th Judicial District, which handled the case. Additionally, Guillermo Gomez, Gaston’s attorney, said that sex between the then-23-year-old Gaston and the then-17-year-old student would not constitute statutory rape in the state of Florida.
When asked whether he had sexual relations with the alleged victim, Gaston deferred comment to Gomez, who said his client pled not guilty and denied ever having sex with the student.
Cox said the depositions of “many witnesses” made it apparent that Gaston was not in a position of authority over the victim.
But Lieutenant Christopher Daniel, spokesman for the University of South Florida’s police department, said he was disappointed that the case was dropped since “the charges applied were based upon the facts developed and were appropriate.” The case’s dismissal suggests that the university police officers overlooked pertinent details as they investigated the allegations after the victim came forward in the fall of 2010, he said.
“Our officers spoke with the victim and investigated the allegations and determined that sufficient probable cause existed to charge sexual battery by a person in a position of authority,” Daniel said.
Daniel said his department referred the case to the state attorney’s office, which he said it does only if there is “sufficient probable cause.”
Gaston told the News in a Wednesday email that the case resulted in a “misrepresentation of [his] character” and said the investigation was “sloppy.” Gaston, whose father is a native of Saint Lucia, also claimed that the investigation may have been pursued because of his race.
“I find it to be both asinine and troubling that police investigators rushed to judgment in this case,” Gaston said. “Having grown up in the deep South, I am inclined to believe that my case was politically and racially motivated.”
Daniel could not be reached late Thursday night to respond to allegations that his department’s investigation was racially biased.
Gaston said he has maintained contact with the Divinity School administration by email concerning developments of his case, adding that he will speak with them soon about returning to Yale.
Harold Attridge, dean of the Divinity School, could not be reached for comment.
Before his suspension, Gaston was scheduled to earn a Masters in Divinity in 2013.