A mediation between a teacher and a teacher’s aide in 2016 led to an intense investigation after accusations of child abuse against the teacher surfaced. The teacher, along with two others, are now facing criminal charges.
Northwest Florida Daily News reports that in April 2016, teacher’s aide Gina Mercer filed a complaint against special education teacher, Marlynn Stillions, 59, after the pair had trouble getting along with each other at Kenwood Elementary School in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Both made allegations against each other. While Stillons alleged that Mercer failed to do her job properly, Mercer accused Stillons of violating The Code of Ethics and The Principles of Professional Conduct of the Education Profession of Florida.
During the intervention process between the teacher and teacher’s aide, officials at the school changed the case into an investigation after Mercer alleged that Stillons abused children in her special education class. According to Mercer, Stillons physically and emotionally abused special needs children, some of which couldn’t talk and convey to their parents what was going on, such as Eddie Perillo’s then 4-year-old special needs son.
As part of the investigation, numerous other employees at the school were interviewed and questioned about Stillons’ alleged actions. According to court documents, at least eight people employed by the school came forward with their own complaints about Stillons.
For instance, two cafeteria employees said that they witnessed Stillons pushing Perillo’s son with her foot after the little boy threw himself to the floor when he became upset. The school cafeteria manager said she saw Stillons throw food away intended for her students, and put her foot on them.
Another teacher at the school, Chrystal Ramer, said she witnessed Stillons carrying a child by the waistband and collar into the cafeteria and placing him on the floor. She also said she witnessed Stillons taking food away from her students. School custodian, Leslie Prince, said she saw Stillons “knee” a student around four times.
Teacher assistant, Mary Elias-Evans, told school officials that she witnessed Stillons chasing a student around a tree after the child ran from Stillons’ classroom. Elias-Evans said she watched from the window while the teacher and student played “cat and mouse.” When Stillons finally caught the child, she allegedly pushed him to the ground. Stillons later said the child attacked her, but Elias-Evans said Stillons lied and that the child never once put hands on the teacher.
Elias-Evans also said she witnessed Stillons sticking her foot out a while a student walked by, tripping him.
Mercer said she witnessed Stillons abuse children on numerous occasions, including:
- Putting children in a laundry basket, then covering them with a bean bag and placing her foot on the bean bag.
- Spraying vinegar into students’ mouths
- Shoving her fingers into a student’s mouth
- Denying students food
- Making a student face a wall while holding her hand on the back of his head
- Shoving a fabric wand into a student’s mouth
- Spraying a student in the face with water
Court records indicate that Stillons’ behavior in the classroom “deteriorated to the point where no aide wants to be with Teacher Stillons.”
Meanwhile, Perillo told Nancy Grace that for an entire year, he was never told that a teacher was under investigation for reportedly abusing his son. Perillio said he only found out about it after talking to an acquaintance at his son’s school.
When Perillio asked school officials about the investigation, they allegedly claimed to know nothing about it. Perillo claimed it took two weeks for officials to fess up, and it was only after he threatened to call the State’s Attorney Office and the National Autism Society.
Perillo reported that his nonverbal son couldn’t tell what happened to him at school, but he noticed that Noah had become more aggressive at home and would often take out his frustrations on his little brother. He also noticed his child became frightened of water bottles and would violently lash out. Officials transferred Stillons to Silver Sands school, and when Noah got a new teacher, his behavior significantly improved, according to his father.
“Why would a teacher hit or kick your baby and spray vinegar in his face? Why? What was it she tried to achieve?” Nancy Grace asked the father.
“She said she was trying to get him to talk. That was the way she had learned how to deal with kids with his kind of diagnosis…Supposedly she was doing what she learned to do to control him, which he’s not an out of control baby,” he replied.
Perillio told CrimeOnline that reading the report greatly upset him and brought tears to his eyes.
“Spraying him with a vinegar bottle, throwing him to the ground, kicking him while he was on the ground, putting his face to a brick wall, putting him in a clothes basket with a pillow on top and holding him in there with her foot, having a wand with fabric and liquid on the end and shoving it in his mouth—all kinds of awful stuff—and keeping food from him and other kids. I feel like I failed him as a father. I promised him I would do whatever I have to, to ensure his and every other kid’s safety while they are at school.”
It’s still unclear what compelled school administrators to allegedly withhold information from law enforcement, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and from the boy’s father. In Florida, failure to report suspected abuse immediately is a criminal offense.
Stillions is facing four counts of “child abuse without great bodily harm.” The then-principal of the school, Angelyn Vaughan, 61, faces charges of failing to report suspected child abuse. The school’s investigator, Arden Farley, 70, also faces charges of failing to report suspected child abuse. All three suspects turned themselves in to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office voluntarily in September, and have since been released.
According to the arrest report, police accused Farley of doing his own investigation into the matter without turning information over to authorities.
“Despite all of these concerning allegations, he failed to make a mandatory report to the Florida Department of Children and Families Abuse Hotline as required by Florida Law. Instead he conducted his own investigation and ‘confirmed’ some of the allegations and ‘unconfirmed’ other allegations.”
In this episode of “Crime Stories,” Nancy Grace is joined by Eddie Pirello, psychologist Caryn Stark, and reporters with Northwest Florida Daily News, Heather Osbourne and Tom McLaughlin.
“Crime Stories with Nancy Grace” is now a national radio show, heard on SiriusXM’s Triumph Channel 132, five times a day. You can also subscribe and download the daily podcasts at iTunes and Google Play.
[Feature Photo: Screenshot/WEARTV]