Teacher's assault charge is put on hold Father accused instructor of grabbing arm of boy, 11

February 06, 1997|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Had James Carothers been your average teacher, prosecutors and defense attorneys might have slipped in and out of court without a peep yesterday.

Instead, nearly 60 ribbon-bedecked parents and children gathered with banners and a petition outside Baltimore County District Court in Catonsville to protest a charge that the popular Catonsville Elementary School music instructor assaulted an 11-year-old boy in November.

The outcry subsided quickly as the two parties agreed to put the charge on hold on the condition that the teacher, who was accused of grabbing the child's arm and threatening him, get counseling -- which he has done.

The move, approved by Judge I. Marshall Seidler, essentially puts aside the charge of second-degree assault, with conditions. If neither side reopens the case within a year, prosecutors would need a good reason -- such as a criminal conviction -- to reopen it. After three years, it may not be reopened.

"You could not have picked a teacher in the school who would have prompted more of an uproar," said parent Kate Walsh, who helped organize the protest. "He's the best. He is tireless in his commitment to kids, with after-school plays and concerts. He's always been a beacon of strength."

Charles Allen Jr., the boy's father -- who pressed the charge -- said he was satisfied with the agreement, but worried about the teacher returning to class from the central office, where he has been helping with administrative duties since early December.

School officials said they would review the court's action and decide about Carothers' return to teaching.

"We got what we wanted," Allen said. "We wanted him to get help. We wanted the situation to get the attention so it wasn't just blown off to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"All of these parents who supported him, if it had been their children who had been assaulted and threatened for no just cause, how would they react?"

The charge stemmed from a Nov. 13 incident after a fifth-grade music class, when Trae Allen told Carothers he would not be attending practice for a "Nutcracker Suite" production because of a soccer match.

As the encounter heated up, the teacher took the boy's arm and told him if he were his parent, he would hit him and throw him across the room, according to the teacher and statements made by Charles Allen to prosecutors. The teacher subsequently apologized.

Allen said his son was frightened by the incident and did not want to return to class.

Carothers, 45, a 17-year veteran of the school system -- including six years at Catonsville Elementary -- said after yesterday's hearing that the incident happened amid the tumult of trying to dismiss 90 students from the class.

He said the boy was rude, and walked away from him while he was talking. Carothers said he grabbed the boy's elbow to turn him around and made the comments. He then sent the boy across the room for a "time out" while he dismissed the other students, he said.

"It was a human error, not a crime," Carothers said, adding that he accepted the agreement only to speed his return to the classroom.

Soon after Carothers was charged, parents rallied to his side, gathering more than 600 names on a petition and raising $2,100 for his legal defense.

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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