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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Sub Cleared of Choking Teen Can’t Sue School

(CN) - A New Jersey school is not liable after a substitute teacher faced assault charges for which he was acquitted after grappling with a student over her phone, a federal judge ruled.

Russell Jenkins had been subbing a 10th grade science class at Orange High School when he ordered several students to turn off their music devices at about 11 a.m. on March 6, 2009.

A student, described in the court record as S.L., ignored the command, however, leading Jenkins, then 43, to snatch her phone. As S.L. jumped up to reach for it, she grabbed his hand.

The 6-foot-3, 299-pound man says he then pushed 15-year-old S.L. so she stumbled and fell back onto the "edge of her chair," then took "two skips" toward him, and "swung" at him.

Once Jenkins deflected the 5-foot-tall, 105-pound girl's fist with his hand, spinning her around 180 degrees, he picked her up and carried her into the hallway, he claims.

S.L. maintains, however, that Jenkins threw his arms around her neck, and that she was "having a hard time breathing" as he carried her into the hallway.

Though several students, the vice principal, and two security guards say they saw Jenkins choking or dragging S.L. in a headlock with her arms and legs "flailing," he likened his grip to a mere "bear hug" above her "breast area." The school says its cameras did not record the incident.

After Jenkins followed orders to release S.L., she was escorted to the nurse, who reported two red marks and two long scratches on the teenager's neck.

The school reported the incident to S.L.'s mother and the police, leading Detective Michael Tingolie to charge Jenkins with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

About 10 days later, Jenkins filed juvenile charges against S.L. for assault. After Tingolie arrested the teen, the school board removed Jenkins from its sub list.

A grand jury indicted Jenkins later that year, but the charges were downgraded on Sept. 16, 2010, to one count of simple assault, of which he was eventually acquitted.

Jenkins sued S.L., the Board of Education and three officials, as well as the city, its police department, and Tingolie in 2011.

The amended complaint alleged false arrest and claims. S.L. was voluntarily dismissed last year, and U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty granted the defendants summary judgment Monday on all counts.

"Tingolie did not speak with any student witnesses, because their parents did not want to cooperate with the investigation," McNulty wrote. "But the student witness statements would only have corroborated the evidence Tingolie did possess; all of the students agreed that Jenkins choked S.L. in some manner."

There was no due-process violation because "Jenkins received the full panoply of due process protections to which he was entitled after his arrest," McNulty added.

As for the claims of involuntary servitude and race discrimination, the court found "no evidence so much as suggesting that Jenkins was treated differently from other, similarly situated individuals."

"The record does not contain any indication that Jenkins was coerced to work for the school defendants, that he worked without pay, or (if so) that he was compelled to do so," the judge added (parentheses in original).

Despite noting that "the frustrations of dealing with a defiant adolescent, and a substitute teacher, who has no ongoing relationship with the students, may face additional challenges," the judge refused to revive the claims against S.L.

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