Law firm seeks firing of ex-baseball coach’s wife
A Fort Myers law firm has demanded the termination of a Lee County Sheriff’s Office employee for her alleged role in a racially-charged video her husband, a former head baseball coach, made about the man who replaced him.
Meanwhile, the former coach has said he wants to meet with the man who replaced him tell his side of things, apologize and assure him his actions weren’t meant to be racist.
The Wilbur Smith Law Firm sent a letter to Lee County Sherriff Mike Scott Monday demanding the immediate termination of Shelley Bechtol, a records assistant with the sheriff’s office and wife of former North Fort Myers High School head baseball coach David Bechtol.
The firm represents current North varsity head baseball coach Tavaris Gary in an investigation of alleged racism and racist violent acts and threats by Shelley Bechtol.
Bechtol, a three-year employee with the LCSO, was placed on administrative leave Tuesday morning by Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, who also ordered an internal investigation into the matter.
An official with the LCSO would not comment on the investigation while it is ongoing.
The law firm is looking into specific acts such as the drawing of racial caricatures of Gary, including a noose around the neck of the image, Gary’s name written with the image and a video of the family beating the image with a sledgehammer.
The video, reportedly shot by one of Bechtol’s teenage son’s friends, was uploaded to social media.
“She’s a county employee and taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for employees who display overly racist attacks,” Gary’s attorney Sawyer Smith said. “We saw violent racist attacks on what should be a celebrated baseball coach.”
Smith said it is unknown whether they will file a suit against the Bechtols and that the firm was conducting its own investigation into the matter.
“We’re looking into who was a part of this, how it happened. There are a lot of questions that need answered. He wants his civil rights advocated for and we’re doing that.” Smith said.
Gary was named head coach this winter, becoming the first African-American head baseball coach in Lee County since school desegregation in 1969.
Gary was unavailable for comment, though he has said in other reports that the video can’t be construed in any other way but racial.
“When you see a noose around someone’s neck and look at American history, it’s very damaging,” Gary said in a TV interview.
Meanwhile, David Bechtol said Tuesday he remains “sick to his stomach” over the matter and insists it was not meant as a racial attack as he believes the media reports have made it out to be.
“There was no malicious intent. It was not planned. It was something quick where I was working, I turned around and hit a picture, along with two others, who were Caucasian,” Bechtol said. “I had a kitchen to renovate. We were tearing down walls and cabinets.”
Bechtol said the lighting was dim and didn’t see the pictures well enough to realize what they meant.
The pictures, which were less than eight inches in diameter, were of people the Bechtols had tiffs with over the years, drawn by his wife. Hitting them with a sledgehammer was to symbolize the family had moved on, Bechtol said.
Gary was a junior varsity coach under Bechtol for two months before being elevated to varsity coach. Bechtol , who had coached North for three years, was elated over getting Gary and liked him at first, but was upset over losing his job, unjustifiably, he thought, as he was under contract.
“I was hurt. Who wouldn’t be in that situation? The seniors on the team were freshmen when I got there,” Bechtol said. “He was a teacher, so I get it, but it hurts.”
His two sons, seniors Dolan and Dakota, played for Gary this season.
Bechtol said there was no noose or big lips when Shelley originally drew the pictures. Someone did that while he and others were working in the kitchen. He added that Shelley thought someone had drawn a straw out of Gary’s head.
“Somebody doodled something when me and my wife were putting up some wood in the kitchen,” Bechtol said. “There were five teenagers in the house who were helping bring the cabinets out and one of them doodled something.”
An aggravated David said he picked up a sledgehammer, walked to the wall, slammed the picture and walked away.
The following day, when the video surfaced on Facebook, Bechtol said he was sick and felt sorry for Tavaris and the family.
“I wanted to call him immediately, I felt so terrible for them. They did not deserve that and I did not know that was there,” Bechtol said. “I just want to tell him my side and that I’m sorry, not because of what I did, but because of what I saw. There was never a racial intent. I would never allow that in my house.”
Bechtol said he has taken African-American kids into his home, driven them to and from school even if they didn’t go to the same school as his kids, and helped tutor them into the honor roll.
“Does that sound racist to you? This is what we’ve done. We’ve coached Little League and Pop Warner for 11 years and there were African-American kids on the team. Ask them if they thought I was racist,” Bechtol said.
Bechtol said he has tried to contact Gary and arrange a meeting with him at the school, but that Gary has declined.