Group home employee, Knox teaching assistant facing federal drug charges

Frederick Bennett

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- He's been praised for his work with some of East Tennessee's most troubled teenagers for almost a decade, but a Knox County teaching assistant is headed to federal court Thursday on charges of dealing crack cocaine.

As if those claims weren't alarming enough, some neighbors are equally angry over how the arrest went down.

The DEA isn't talking, and the neighbors aren't talking on camera until they see what works through the courts, but neighbors and Knox County Schools may have been blindsided.

For almost five years, 43-year-old Frederick Bennett has been moonlighting as a disciplinary counselor for Cooper House -- a state-contracted foster home for troubled boys in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood -- until last Friday when neighbors say the DEA showed up with guns drawn.

Apparently, agents took him into custody after he and some of the boys had gotten back from an errand.

The boys didn't see him put in handcuffs.

Bennett's record isn't spotless, but he passed the background checks required of Cooper House's parent company and Knox County Schools. The background check consisted namely of solid references and no felony convictions.

Bennett had begun his fourth year as a behavioral specialist at Ridgedale, a school for troubled teenagers. He started his eleventh year with Knox County Schools.

His is a career that has seen him go from an $11,000-a-year part-timer to a full-timer earning more than $27,000.

He has three straight years of stellar job reviews, and one former principal described this former semi-pro football player as gentle and kind, but forcefully gentle when the need arises, that his mere presence made the school building safer, that he often shows the patience of Job -- truly a gentle giant.

Fred Bennett is on paid leave from Knox County Schools until he resolves his criminal case.

His indictment claims his alleged drug dealing began two years ago and ended last April.

Schools spokesman Russ Oaks says Knox County schools had no clue the DEA suspected Bennett of anything until his arrest.

Fourth and Gill residents question not only why federal agents arrested Bennett in their neighborhood with children nearby, but they wonder why they didn't give his employers a heads up so that they could decide whether to keep him working with children.

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