Court backs teacher in abuse case

March 08, 1995|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

The Court of Special Appeals yesterday agreed with an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge and upheld a decision to drop an obstruction-of-justice charge against a county teacher accused of mistreating one of her special education students.

County prosecutors said a criminal charge of misconduct in office against Susan Hope Pagano, 39, of Columbia, could be reinstated. The charge was dropped last June.

Robert J. Bittman, who prosecuted the case but since has left the state's attorney's office, said that when he filed the appeal that he intended to charge Ms. Pagano again after the ruling. Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said a decision about reinstating the charge would be made after consulting with Mr. Bittman and the girl's father.

A grand jury indicted Ms. Pagano last March for on charges of putting a 16-year-old blind and handicapped Glen Burnie girl into a storage closet at the Ruth Parker Eason School on Dec. 10, 1993.

Ms. Pagano now works in the special education division at the Board of Education's central offices. Though an internal investigation has been completed, there will be no decision on disciplinary action until Ms. Pagano's legal issues have been resolved, said Jane Doyle, a schools spokeswoman. Ms. Pagano maintains through her lawyer that she never put the girl into a closet, but into a room that staff use for "timeouts," in which a student with a behavioral problem is separated from the rest of the class.

"The door was always open and that was the normal procedure for dealing with these kids," said Margaret A. Mead, Ms. Pagano's attorney.

According to court records, the girl, who uses a wheelchair, arrived home with a red mark, scratches and blood on her arms. Her father took her to a hospital emergency room, where a physician called police to report child abuse.

When first confronted by police, Ms. Pagano told them she knew nothing about the marks or scratches on the girl's arms, court records said. But, according to court documents, when an aide told Ms. Pagano that she would inform the principal of her conduct, Ms. Pagano admitted putting the girl into the closet and told police the girl might have received the scratches at that time.

Prosecutors filed the obstruction-of-justice charge based on Ms. Pagano's alleged admission that she had lied to the police. Judge H. Chester Goudy dismissed the charge in a June pretrial hearing, ruling that there was no basis for the charge because the case was not in court at the time Ms. Pagano allegedly misled police. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with Judge Goudy.

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