A Newport Beach fifth-grade teacher suspended last fall after four girls in his class accused him of fondling them was acquitted Thursday of misdemeanor child molestation charges after jurors deliberated just 55 minutes.
Frank Tozzolina Jr., 42, known as “Mr. T” to students at Mariner Elementary School, hopes to be reinstated immediately at the school, said his attorney, Jonn D. Barnett.
“This was clearly a case of four young girls who made up this story in a conspiracy to get him fired,” Barnett said afterward.
The key evidence on behalf of the veteran teacher was a note that one of the girls had written stating: “I’m going to tell my Mom Mr. T molested me and you guys, because he will get fired. Please circle yes or no.” Several “yeses” were circled.
Also on the note, in another girl’s hand, was written: “Let’s go get him now. I want him fired.”
Tozzolina told jurors that the girls were retaliating against him because he had given them failing grades in science and had kept them after school.
Harbor Municipal Judge Russell A. Bostrom dismissed two of the four counts against Tozzolina on Thursday morning after two of the girls testified that he touched them only on the back and the leg. Records show that the girls had made more incriminating statements to the police, but they did not back them up on the witness stand.
The other two girls, however, claimed that Tozzolina had touched them on the breast area by slipping his hand inside their blouses. One said he touched her buttocks.
But some of the jurors told Tozzolina afterward that they believed that he had done nothing wrong, Barnett said. After they returned quickly, Judge Bostrom said “it was a just verdict.”
Barnett produced more than a dozen character witnesses for Tozzolina, plus a 10-year-old girl who said she overheard the other girls plotting to have Tozzolina fired.
Most of the character witnesses were teachers from the school who supported Tozzolina.
“The whole school is behind him; they know he has been set up,” Barnett said.
Tozzolina had been suspended with pay pending a resolution of his case. Barnett said Tozzolina believes that the school will welcome him back immediately. Tozzolina has been a teacher for 19 years, the last 9 at Mariner.
“What happened to this man is scary, really,” Barnett said. “He had to go to trial, risk his career, and all because some girls thought he was a boring teacher, wasn’t good-looking and had flunked them.”
Barnett suggested that the girls did not know what the consequences of their actions would be. The parents of one of the girls have already arranged to have her transferred to another school, Barnett said.
It was the discovery of the note that set the case in motion. Tozzolina found the note and immediately turned it over to the school principal on Oct. 19. The principal notified the girls’ parents. The parents called the Newport Beach police, and Tozzolina was arrested 2 days later.
Barnett said Tozzolina is pleased with the verdict but took the good news calmly. Tozzolina was accompanied in court by his parents, wife and several close friends.