Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Strange Day In Court

The black line of today's paper is Case Against Janitor Unraveling. It's a good and accurate headline. The case is unraveling because janitor Robert Strange was wrongly charged to begin with based on a misreading of the pennsylvania criminal code.

Not long ago, teachers and school employees were included into the list of people who did jobs, that our state legislature deemed worth of special protection. The list is long, and it includes law enforcement officers, firemen, politicians, office holders, medical personnel, child services workers, etc.

What the law does is up the penalties for attacks on such persons while on the job. The idea is that these people need and deserve special protection in the way of making it a more serious crime to attack them, as opposed to people doing less dangerous work, like construction, news gathering or trash collecting.

The law does not cover "students." In fact, the law was passed specificially to protect teachers and school staff from unruly and violent students, among other potential miscreants.

Oddly enough, the 11-year-old in this case could have been charged with aggravated assault for slapping the janitor in the face with a rag. After all, the end of the rag could have scraped the poor janitor's eye, damaging his cornea. Believe me, children in this country have been brought up on criminal charges for a whole lot less.

Defense Attorney Larry Dworkin pointed out the statute was misapplied in this case. Deputy DA Mike Galantino should have known better, but he didn't. After reading a copy of the law, Galatino admitted as much. DJ. Horace Davis threw the charge out.

What should have been clear to everybody by now is that this is not a case of even simple assault but of inappropriate horseplay. It shouldn't have been criminalized. And if all the adults involved had been more thoughtful, it wouldn't have been.

But then, there are hundreds of cases of children being charged with crimes on even skimpier evidence; i.e. drawing a picture of someone shooting a gun.

The scuttlebutt is that the parents of this young man are looking to cash in on the incident with a lawsuit against the school district. Certainly, criminal charges filed in the case would help such a suit.

So Robert Strange finds himself bound over for trial on simple assault, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct.

The DA's office is now publicly invested in seeing to it that he pleads to, or is found guilty of, something. Going to trial is expensive. Strange is out of work and has no money coming in. The best he can probably hope for is ARD.

He is, by all accounts, a good worker and a good father. He made a big mistake in thinking that he could be friends with the kids in the school where he worked, that he could treat them like little brothers and roughhouse with them. Not in today's world.

Cindy Scharr's story is here.

My column is here.


Blogger Maryann said...

It is very sad that Robert Strange had to learn a lesson the hard way. I am a retired teacher. I worked in the same building as Mr. Strange. Mr. Strange is hard working, pleasant and a very respectful man. I noticed Mr. Strange chatting with students, just being normally friendly. I warned him that some children will turn on you as fast as you can look at them. Obviously, he did not take heed to my advice. This whole incident could have been avoided had Mr. Strange taken advice from a seasoned professional. If anything, he needed to report the child's behavior to the teacher and the child needed to be reprimanded. Such a shame for a hardworking man just trying to do his job with a happy, friendly attitude.

March 11, 2011 at 8:52 AM 
Blogger Maryann said...

It has come to my attention that Mr. Strange was teasing the child for a poor grade. This kind of behavior is unacceptable for anyone at any age.On that point he needs to be reprimanded as well as the student. How is he privy to that kind of information? Seems like the student reacted in the only way he knew to stop the teasing. This whole incident is unfortunate and was avoidable had Mr. Strange acted like a mature individual. In defense of the teacher there is no way any professional at Harris would allow a student to be "assaulted" in their presence. Hopefully, the truth will come out and we will see justice served for all involved.

March 11, 2011 at 11:02 AM 

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