POLK COUNTY, Fla. - A Polk County varsity coach was arrested Thursday on molestation charges. Detectives say Michael Cope "intentionally and inappropriately" touched a 15-year-old female student against her will.
The incident occurred at Lake Region High in Eagle Lake where Cope, 52, works. According to an arrest affidavit, Cope fondled the victim and slapped her on the buttocks while they were alone in a classroom.
Cope is the girls' varsity basketball coach and an in-school suspension para-instructor. The school district says Cope was originally hired in 1986 as a paraeducator. He's been with Lake Region High as a basketball coach since 2008 and as a self-contained ESE paraeducator since 2011.
"I mean I'm disappointed in him," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. "I am disappointed because he was in a position of authority. He's a coach and supposed to be a role model. Well, he was a bad role model and as a result he went to jail."
According to Cope's arrest affidavit, the victim told deputies that Cope told her not to tell anyone what happened.
He was arrested when he went to the Polk County Sheriff's Operations Center in Winter Haven to talk with detectives about the allegations.
Cope first denied the allegations, but according to the sheriff's office eventually confessed saying "there was no reason and the act was a spur of the moment."
"I'm a little shocked. He was always a nice guy," said Brandon Roop, a senior at Lake Region High School.
Cope is charged with one count of lewd and lascivious molestation.
According to the Polk County School District, Cope has been placed on administrative leave. He had no other prior disciplinary action in his personnel file. But this is not his first criminal offense. According to the sheriff's office, Cope has been arrested four previous times in Polk County on charges of aggravated assault, battery, worthless checks, and driving under the influence.