Former principal acquitted on abuse charge
POINT PLEASANT — More than a year after a video of a stalemate between a student and a former principal on a school bus divided the community, that principal was acquitted of the charge of child abuse causing risk of injury.
Cameron Moffett, former principal of Point Pleasant Intermediate School (PPIS), faced Judge David W. Nibert for a bench trial Tuesday, represented by Attorney Jim Lees. Before Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Craig Tatterson could present his case, Nibert had to deal with a motion from the Mason County Board of Education requesting it not be made to submit the video from the school bus or a video taken outside PPIS immediately after the event. Bob Kent, counsel for the board of education said federal law prevented it from releasing images of children without their parent’s consent. Kent also said the board of education never released the video of the school bus incident which circulated around the Internet.
Nibert said he could see the purpose of the statute but it was no longer relevant since the video was already available on the Internet for anyone to see. As Nibert put it, “the horse is out of the barn.” The board of education was ordered to supply the videos and comply with the subpoena which it did. As for that video which Tatterson said was “essential” to his case, Nibert said he had never seen it, though that would all change by the end of the bench trial.
Tatterson’s opening statement called Moffett an “overzealous principal” who took the situation on the school bus too far, forcibly removing the student from the bus which caused substantial risk of injury to that student. Lees’ opening statement said Moffett was simply doing his job to resolve said situation — a situation Lees said involved a student with a documented history of assaulting school personnel. Lees said the student threw himself on the ground, causing the injury.
Tatterson’s first witness was Summer Mitchell, a teacher’s aide at PPIS who was on the bus at the time of the incident. Mitchell said her back was to Moffett and the student during part of the incident and she didn’t see how the student got off the bus but she heard a struggle and screaming. She said she didn’t believe the student walked off the bus of his own free will, that Moffett assisted in some way.
A 12-year old student who was a fifth grader at PPIS at the time of the incident also testified. The student was one of several others who were asked to exit the bus by Moffett who directed all the seats in front of the student who wasn’t complying be cleared. The 12-year old witness said Moffett rolled the male student off the bus, tossed him to the ground and put his knee in the student’s back, “slamming” his head on the ground, twice. The 12-year old witness claimed the male student was not kicking and screaming and said, aloud, that he couldn’t breathe.
Tatterson then played the video of the incident on the school bus which circulated around the Internet and was played on various media news outlets. Nibert asked to see a portion of the video twice and then took a short recess.
When Nibert returned, the male student’s mother, Melanie Plants, was called to testify. Plants said she became aware of the incident when she picked her son up from school and he had a band-aid on his face, saying the side of his face appeared “red” and “swollen.” She said she took pictures of her son’s face, which were entered into evidence, and took her son to the emergency room for tests the day of the incident — these medical records were also entered into evidence. Plants said her son was also autistic and had Asperger Syndrome.
Under cross examination from Lees, Plants was questioned about when she filed a civil lawsuit against Moffett concerning the incident. He asked why Plants wanted a statement from everyone at the emergency room at Pleasant Valley Hospital who treated her son. At this point, Plants became emotional, raised her voice and said, “Because I found out what happened and it wasn’t right … I wanted documentation.” At that point, Nibert asked for a short break, allowing Plants to compose herself and the questioning to continue.
Lees then got into the male student’s alleged injuries with Plants who said he had a facial abrasion and scrapes on his arm. Lees said the medical reports revealed several tests were done such as X-rays and a CT-Scan and nothing was found.
Tatterson then called Dr. Joan Phillips, graduate of WVU and an employee of Charleston Area Medical Center, who is also a pediatrician board certified in child abuse and neglect. Phillips said the incident in question was child abuse and put the student at substantial risk for concussion and a facial fracture. Lees then brought up reports detailing investigations done by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources as well as the State Department of Education which both found the incident was not a case of child abuse. Lees then took this opportunity to bring up a school crisis management report about the student which labeled him as BD (behavioral disorder) — this report pre-dated the incident when the student was at Beale Elementary. The report also said “passive restraint” can be used on the student if after a five minute time out, and giving the student a task until calm, didn’t alleviate the situation. Lees, again saying this crisis management report pre-dated the incident, also said it pre-dated incidents of the student throwing a steel truck at a teacher and stabbing another teacher with a fork. Lees took issue with the notion a five minute time out should’ve been taken on the bus that day and earlier stressed Moffett knew of the other incidents involving the student when he went to said bus to deal with him.
Shortly after lunch, court reconvened with Moffett’s attorney, Jim Lees, making a motion for acquittal. Lees said the state had produced “zero proof” that his client had caused injury to the student. Lees also took issue with the state not calling any teachers or the bus driver to the stand. Tatterson said his office had unsuccessfully attempted to subpoena the bus driver and as for his other witnesses, he believed he had called the appropriate ones to prove his case.
After this brief exchange between Lees and Tatterson, Nibert granted the acquittal, saying the state had failed to meet its burden of proof in the case. At that point, Moffett was free to go and the case will be stricken from the record. It is not known if Moffett, who is still employed with Mason County Schools, will return to working with students in an administrative capacity, such as a principal.
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