More than 40 people gathered outside the Sumner County Criminal Court building in Gallatin on Thursday to protest the plea agreement for a former Shafer Middle School teacher accused of having inappropriate physical contact with more than one of his students last year.
“We’re here for a reason,” Gallatin resident Rhonda Cuffee said. “Our kids need to be protected. (This plea deal) should have never happened.”
Robert Ring, 50, was originally arrested in June of 2019 and charged with two counts each of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony, and assault for four separate incidents that occurred in April and May of that same year.
As part of a plea deal last week, a charge of aggravated sexual battery was amended to aggravated assault. The other charges were dropped by the prosecution.
Ring also accepted the minimum sentence of three years – all suspended, Sumner County Criminal Court Judge Dee David Gay said during a hearing on Sept. 17. His record will also be eligible to be expunged after serving three years of probation.
“I was outraged,” protest organizer Cheyanne Scarbrough said about the plea deal. “If somebody can go to jail over a gram of weed, then he should go to jail over the sexual assaults that happened and not have the charges dropped.
“It’s not fair for (parents) to be worried about if a teacher is going to sexually assault their kid and not get any punishment or anything over it.”
In addition to probation, the former sixth-grade social studies teacher must also surrender his teaching license, pay $630 in restitution, perform 500 hours of community service, avoid contact with the victims and not be employed where minors work.
Prosecutors said in court last week that Ring's “odd behavior” started after he returned from having hip surgery during spring break. They also said Ring had received no complaints as a teacher for two decades.
“He was in a position of leadership and he abused that power,” Michael Cuffee said. “He should be right in the prison. It makes no sense that they allowed him to get away with that.”
Reporter Tena Lee contributed to this report.