A student has fully recanted assertions he made in 2018 that former Oglethorpe Point Elementary Assistant Principal Eric Cabrera had sexually molested him when he was in fifth grade, which resulted in Cabrera’s arrest and effectively derailed his career for a time.
Caden Anderson Bassett, the former Oglethorpe Elementary student who originally accused Cabrera of fondling him, signed an affidavit Oct. 12 saying it never happened.
In the affidavit signed in Henry County, Bassett said that he knew Cabrera in 2014 and that at no point has Cabrera “ever behaved or communicated inappropriately with me or around me.” He stated further in the affidavit that Cabrera never committed any crime against him, “including, but not limited to, any act of child molestation, sexual assault, sexual abuse or otherwise.”
The affidavit came with the $.01 settlement of a $100,000 slander suit Cabrera filed against Caden Bassett and his family.
Although the settlement was for a pittance, Cabrera’s lawyer, Jay Dow, said he got something immeasurable.
“All he wanted was his good name,’’ and he has that back, Dow said.
The charges arose on Aug. 7, 2018, when Glynn County Police investigator Clayton Palmer, who is no longer with the department, secured a criminal arrest warrant for Cabrera accusing him of fondling the fifth-grader in a locked classroom.
That arrest warrant was issued four years after the alleged crime. In his affidavit to support the warrant, Palmer says that the criminal act of child molestation occurred on or before May 23, 2014.
Police arrested Cabrera at 7 a.m. on Aug. 8, 2018, a few days before the start of a new school year.
The man who had been Glynn County teacher of the year for the 2012-13 school year spent nine days in jail before he was released on a $50,000 bond with the condition that he wear an ankle monitor. Dow said Cabrera was saddled with the $300 monthly cost of the monitor.
The case never made it to court. A few days before Christmas, District Attorney Jackie Johnson had the criminal charges against Cabrera dismissed citing a lack of evidence.
Any reasonable investigation would have shown that Bassett’s account of the events was impossible, Dow said.
In explaining her dismissal at the time, Johnson cited the “wide gap” between what is required to arrest someone and what is enough for a conviction.
She also said there was no reason for the case to proceed based on what the investigative file contained.
“Absent there being any change in the evidence, I don’t see our office making any change in the decision,’’ she told The News at the time.
Dow said then that although he and the Cabrera Family were pleased that Johnson “pursued the right and just course in declining prosecution,’’ the family had paid a heavy price.
Dow said, “this situation has been devastating to him, his wife and his family. His life’s work and good name have been irreparably harmed if not altogether destroyed.”
His good name was not destroyed, however, with most people who knew him. A number of his friends and coworkers approached a writer who had not reported on the case and asked that he talk with Cabrera about how he had suffered as a result of the former student’s claims. Cabrera declined an interview because he was still considering legal recourse.
That recourse came in May 2019 when he filed the slander suit against Caden Bassett and his family in Glynn County Superior Court. He asked the court to award him $100,000 in damages from the Bassett Family for Caden Bassett’s statements that resulted in the loss of his job that paid $73,857 annually and state pension benefits, the accrual of more than $20,000 in legal costs and $1,300 in counseling fees and the disruption of his career that resulted in his wife filing for bankruptcy.
Ironically, a year and a day after Cabrera’s arrest, Superior Court Judge Roger B. Lane ruled that Georgia law bars some of the slander claims against the Bassetts. Georgia law grants absolute immunity when such statements are made to a psychiatrist. Glynn County police records showed Caden Bassett made the allegations against Cabrera in June 2018 while at a substance abuse and mental health treatment facility in Alabama.
He allowed the now settled suit to continue on claims that Caden Bassett’s accusations were false, baseless and intended to harm Cabrera.
As for Cabrera, he is back working for the Glynn County Board of Education but not in his former administrator’s position. With the backing of school board member Mike Hulsey, the school system put Cabrera back to work for the 2020-21 school year as an instructional coach at Goodyear Elementary.
A statement on Jay Dow’s firm website says, “It is Eric’s desire to resume his life as it once was, helping local youth reach their potential.”