elisha_g._martin__web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — A decision by the Broward State Attorney’s Office not to prosecute a high school basketball coach who admitted carrying on a sexual relationship with an underage student is stirring controversy and sparking outrage from the child’s family.

The case centers on Elisha G. Martin, now 25, of Fort Lauderdale. He worked at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach as a general clerk and basketball coach. He was employed from Aug. 10, 2006 until he resigned, and was fired, effective on March 4, 2009 amid a Broward School District investigation into the scandal.

“Yes, I’m familiar with it,” a solemn Martin said when contacted by a reporter about the case. “I am sorry about it all, but I just don’t know what to say, so I have no comment right now.”

A prosecutor cited the victim’s lack of cooperation in the investigation as one of several factors in the decision not to charge Martin.

Martin, who earned an annual salary of $17,871, plus an undetermined stipend for his coaching duties, also admitted the relationship with the girl to police, and told them he knew the victim was “too young for him to have a sexual relationship with,” according to a police report on the case.

The South Florida Times is not naming the victim or her parents because she was a minor at the time of the alleged incidents.

The legal age for a minor to consent to sex in Florida is 16 years of age, but state statutes make it a crime for a person over the age of 24 to engage in sex with a person under the age of 18.

Martin turned 24 in January 2009, a month before his first alleged sexual encounter with the student in February 2009. Therefore, he could have faced criminal charges for that encounter and subsequent liaisons with the student.

Based on statements that the victim provided to Broward Sheriff’s Office investigators and Fort Lauderdale police, Martin befriended the girl at school when she was 16, and when he was 23. The forbidden relationship escalated after he approached her during a basketball game he was coaching.

The two first allegedly began kissing during school hours in February 2009, and later started spending time together away from school, then allegedly had sex at his Fort Lauderdale home.


Yet, according to a Nov. 3, 2009 memorandum from the Broward State Attorney’s Office, officially closing the case, the decision not to prosecute was based on a number of factors, including Martin’s lack of a criminal history and difficulty scheduling an appointment with the child’s mother to finalize the charges.

“I am declining this case based on the victim’s lack of cooperation,’’ Asst. State Attorney Lauren Covitz said in the memo. “This case will be declined because the victim and her mother have not been cooperative with the detective’s attempts to schedule a PFI [pre-filing interview].”

The memo continues: “Furthermore, this consensual sexual relationship commenced one month after the Subject became 24 years old. If this relationship began one month earlier, it would have been legal for that earlier month.”

Covitz also stated that the victim told investigators that she never wanted Martin to get into trouble for his relationship with her, and that the victim told investigators that she is the one who broke up with Martin.

These and other factors led prosecutors to express doubt they could have obtained a conviction.


The victim’s father expressed outrage when the South Florida Times informed him that no charges would be filed against Martin.

“If this is true, then we have been lied to all along,’’ the victim’s father said on Wednesday, May 12. “The principal told me the case was being investigated and we would be contacted. Now, you are telling me the case was closed months ago. I’m not saying I want the guy to go to jail, but this is a cover up and something has to be done about it.”

He continued: “How do we know there are not other kids he has been involved with?”

Karlton O. Johnson, the school’s principal, did not respond to repeated calls or emails seeking comment.

The teen’s mother did not respond to questions about her supposedly not being available to give a statement to investigators. She said she discovered the relationship after finding dozens of text messages that Martin and her daughter exchanged on the daughter’s cell phone.

“When I read them, I realized he was an adult or maybe a teacher,” the child’s mother said. “I went to the school and filed a complaint with the principal and the resource officer.”

The Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy who was working resource duty at the school took the student’s statement in March. It was determined that the actual intercourse took place at Martin’s home in Fort Lauderdale, and the case was turned over to police there for investigation. During the course of the investigation, Martin provided a statement to police in which he admitted to having sex with the student “several times.”

The events first began unfolding in the winter of 2008, when the student says Martin approached her during school, and eventually at a basketball game.

“He started talking to me and asked for my number and instant message I.D.,” the student told a reporter. “After that we would see each other during school, but we would just kiss and stuff.”

She continued: “Then, he started picking me up from [a relative’s] house and taking me to his house, and that’s where it happened.”

After giving her statement to Det. Anthony Gnisci of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, the girl made repeated calls inquiring about the status of the case.

“Our detective took statements from the victim and the suspect, who both admitted having consensual sex. We were unable to schedule an appointment with the mother of the victim to take her statement,” Sgt. Frank Sousa, spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, told a reporter.

“We still filed it with the State Attorney’s Office, and presented a PC [Probable Cause] affidavit,” Sousa said. “We would have arrested the guy, but they made the decision not to file the case.”


Photo: Elisha G. Martin