Coen Jackson, the Bishops’ High School teacher accused of sexually grooming and preying on female students, yesterday denied the allegations levelled against him, while charging that the complaint now being investigated by the Education Ministry stemmed from a personal grudge.
Jackson, along with his lawyers Jerome Khan, Siand Dhurjon and Priyanka Sookraj, told a press conference yesterday that he has had relationships with two former students of the school but he maintained that they occurred only after they would have graduated and that he never supervised either.
In a statement read to reporters, Jackson suggested that it was his relationship with one of the young women that prompted Cultural Policy Advisor at the Education Ministry Ruel Johnson to launch a social media campaign against him and submit a letter of complaint against him to Chief Education Officer (CEO) Marcel Hutson, all with the aim of getting him fired.
He said Johnson, who is currently involved with the woman, went “berserk” after learning that he was still in close contact with her. He added that he has severed all communication with the individual out of “respect” for her personal space, while stating that he felt sorry that she had been “dragged into Johnson’s unhinged campaign.”
“But this is not enough for Mr Johnson and what he has done is to use his connections based on his position… to report me using the most outrageous claims with the clear intention of having me fired from The Bishops’ High School,” Jackson said. “I wish to deny the accusations being peddled by Mr Johnson and believe that he is using this as a basis for his self-promotion, disregarding what damage is done to many persons’ profession, reputation, and character.”
But Johnson, in a statement issued last night, made reference to reported accounts by other women about Jackson’s alleged actions and noted that more than one formal case is currently being prepared against Jackson.
“I also can’t dignify Mr Jackson’s statement that he was threatened over contact with a young woman except to say that since this issue has started, multiple young women have in fact come out to say publicly that he has sexually propositioned them while they were his students at various institutions including (Government) Technical Institute, the Business School, School of the Nations, Georgetown Technical Institute, Leonora Technical Institute, and Mae’s,” Johnson stated.
Johnson also related that last Friday he received a call from Khan, purportedly in the role of mediator, after he posted on Facebook about the “predatory behaviour by a business teacher at a senior high school.” He claimed Khan alluded to the potential impact of placing such allegations into the public “on Jackson’s still promising career” and pitched the possibility of Jackson resigning to end the issue.
“Mr Khan floated the possibility of Jackson’s resignation bringing an end to the issue, and was informed that while my first line of action was to remove him from the school system, there were allegedly criminal liable aspects to his behaviour – under the Sexual Offences Act – that I could not guarantee would not be pursued,” Johnson said.
Johnson also stated that when he first made the announcement on social media, although he had not named the school or the teacher, dozens of persons came to associate Jackson with the allegations raised. “Mr Jackson’s reputation preceded itself,” he stated.
“What is insulting to these victims of his advances – for which he can also be charged under the Sexual Offences Act – is that he continues to refuse to take personal responsibility for his actions, blaming my effort to see that he no longer occupies a position of trust on a personal vendetta that does not exist,” he added.
A Department of Public Information report yesterday quoted Minister of Education Nicolette Henry as assuring that the ministry would be investigating and dealing with matters of sexual misconduct “accordingly.”
“I know these things can get sensational at times but the world in which we live matters like that ought to be raised and ought to be dealt with very seriously and condignly and that is the ministry’s intention to deal with the matter in the appropriate way using existing and appropriate channels… and, so we will activate the process and take the necessary steps,” Henry said, while indicating that any reports of misconduct will be investigated according to procedure.
‘Doesn’t look good’
While there has been no word on action being taken against Jackson, he said yesterday that he has taken administrative leave.
At the press conference, when asked to confirm that he once shared a relationship with the individual he referred to in his statement, he responded yes, with Khan jumping in at once to state that the relationship began only after the female would have left high school.
Asked whether she was under 18, Khan prompted Jackson to say that he “was not sure.”
“He would not be able to answer that question,” Khan stated.
Jackson said that the young woman is now in her twenties and the relationship ended a few years ago.
Jackson also admitted that the person he is involved with currently was also a former student of the high school.
“I understand the concern. On a moral ground, yes, it doesn’t look good… I have been very discreet about it because of obviously the perception the public would have, rightfully so. I understand that. However, you can’t stop people from falling in love, you can’t stop people from interacting. I have a very strong relationship with this young lady… extremely strong relationship. Yes, I’ve been to Colombia with her. Yes, I’ve been to Aruba with her. Yes, I went to New York with her. Yes, I’ve been to Mexico with her, this is not some slam-bang—the impression that Ruel Johnson is trying to give of me,” Jackson stated.
He indicated that the woman he now shares a relationship with is 21 years old, but was adamant that the relationship did not start whilst she was at school.
“Ma’am, anyone that is above a certain age group is an adult,” Khan intervened, after Jackson was asked how long ago the relationship started.
Asked to clarify whether the girls were at the age of consent at the time of the relationship, Jackson said yes, before adding that they were also not under his instruction at the time.
When asked how many former students he was involved with, Khan prompted him to say, “Just the two.”
“Personal relationship? Intimate relationship? I have had friends, like I said earlier in my statement. Many of them have grown up, we have met socially, that’s it,” said Jackson.
Jackson was asked about any previous allegations against him and he stated that now is the “absolute first time” that any complaints have been brought to his attention.
He was then asked whether he was saying that he never molested any child nor had any sexual relations with a student. “Absolutely not. Ruel Johnson has created this caricature of me as a beast; as a predator. There are many students that can testify on my behalf, on my professional conduct, my ability in the subjects that I teach. The performance record of me as a teacher is there, I have contributed to the [Commission of Inquiry] on education… I have a track record of high performance,” he said.
When a question was posed to Jackson about his alleged engagement with a young lady who posted publicly on her Facebook page claiming that he had solicited sexual favours from her in exchange for assistance in a particular subject area, Khan stated: “We will not answer that question. We’re not going to get into specifics because the social media to which you refer to is inundated with people who may be anonymous, people who might be pretending to be one person or another. We don’t know who that person is… anybody can put a picture….”
Jackson claimed in his statement that he had been threatened by Johnson, who “boasted about his connections and his ability to manipulate the media to satisfy his purpose,” and who also made threats to “destroy” him publicly if he were to maintain contact with the person he is now involved with.
In what Jackson said was a direct quote, he related Johnson as allegedly saying, “I can guarantee you I am going to use my considerable connection in the media to pointedly identify… and have you removed as a teacher in the public education system.”
He reiterated his lawyers’ earlier charge that Johnson had not allowed the administrative process to take its course and by those means, has “no respect for natural justice.”
“In the process, I have been accused, prosecuted and convicted in the court of public opinion,” he stated.
While Jackson described his relationships with his students, both male and female, as “always respectful” and said that some developed from teacher-student to “mature platonic relationships,” there have also been several Facebook posts from students who say they came into contact with Jackson during their stays at various institutions, and recounting experiences they would have had with him, or that reportedly happened to friends of theirs. These accounts spoke of alleged requests for sexual favours, flirting, and the use of sexual innuendos while teaching.
Obstruction of natural course of justice
Meanwhile, Khan reiterated that the administrative process had not been allowed to work and once again criticised the approach taken by Johnson with regard to the matter, while noting that Jackson’s team would respect the process.
“…We are restrained and handcuffed in what we can say because we respect the administrative process that is taking place and we don’t want to influence that process. Yes, we are aware that a complaint has been lodged at the Ministry of Education involving, looking at the complaint. At this stage, it is a mere accusation. In this country, we’re not a kangaroo country and we do not operate as kangaroo courts. If a complaint is made, there is a due process that’s involved. The accused must be given his right to be heard and to explain whatever questions may be raised. And at the end of it, a decision is taken. In his case, it’s an administrative decision. In his case, there are a lot of things that have been stated and peddled on social media which we find rather unfortunate,” Khan said, while referencing claims that his client had fled the country.
He noted that if issues were to be raised, there exists the Teaching Service Commission, as well as the board of the school, and referenced the fact the Johnson had copied his correspondence to the CEO to several government ministers.
“…then look at the text of this letter…he talks about invoking the Sexual Offences Act ad nauseum. If there is a complaint to the police, the police will invoke that act. And when that Act is invoked, there are certain procedures and processes that have to take place. Then the letter talks about recommendations. The recommendations go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 elaborate recommendations, including naming persons who he thinks ought to be appointed to these positions…what’s going on here? There is a process involved, all the process to take place. It’s like Mr Johnson has no confidence in the administration,” Khan said, as he advised that Johnson “respect natural justice”.
“…We have a constitution that says everyone has a right to be heard. Allow it to take place. He wants to organise lynching of this man, which he’s done. He has been publicly lynched…so nothing can change what has happened to him. He is already done. He’s done. Because at the end of the day he will be exonerated and found innocent, but he’s done. Because of this letter,” he added.
Dhurjon said that Jackson is willing to cooperate with any authorities on the matter.
Dhurjon also made it clear that Jackson’s team was monitoring the online activity surrounding their client, and could be making a case in the future for anyone found to be guilty of defamation of character.
“It came to our attention over the past few days there’s been a social media storm. You know, when things like these happen, the allegations, they take a life of their own. And the allegations give rise to new allegations—you have people coming forward saying, “Oh I heard this.” “Oh, this happened to me” and all kinds of things. I want the public to be reminded that there are laws against defamation, and libel and slander are things we take very seriously,” he said.
“…And we’ve notice such acts being committed blatantly by many individuals, but certain individuals constantly go at it hourly. They have a studied campaign against our client. We want them to know that we are monitoring their actions with a view to taking proceedings at a later point,” he added.
End of teaching career
In light of the allegations, Jackson admitted that his career as a teacher may very well be at an end.
“I just want to say that I don’t see how I can recover from something like this, ever, ever, ever. It doesn’t matter where I might go in the world—this stain; people will always have suspicion of me. Always do. So I just gotta live with it, it has happened. Very unfortunate. Very unfortunate,” Jackson said.