State defends trying teacher

Found not guilty of striking pupil, she wants job back

January 09, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

It had all the makings of a high-profile case: a teacher charged with physically assaulting a third-grader. Photos of a trail of blood from the classroom to the principal's office. And a 9-year-old boy willing to say under oath that his teacher hit his nose so hard it spewed blood.

But after a two-day trial last week, a six-man, six-woman jury returned not-guilty verdicts against Barbie Scott, causing some to wonder why the case ever went to trial.

Keith Zimmerman, who has represented the Baltimore Teachers Union since the late 1980s, said that while dozens of complaints have been filed against teachers in Baltimore since 1996, Scott's case was the first to go to trial.

Scott was charged with child abuse and second-degree assault for allegedly striking Kevin Scott, no relation, on March 31. She thinks she was singled out, and she wants her job back.

School officials say she can reapply -- and she has -- but it's not clear whether she'll be rehired. Scott has faced unrelated criminal charges in the past.

Deputy State's Attorney Sharon A. H. May defends the decision to try the Scott case.

"It met the elements of a crime," May said. "That's why it was charged as it was. She's the teacher. She has the temporary care and custody of the child. Based on the evidence that we had, she hit him."

Despite testimony from other pupils, jurors disagreed. At least one juror in Scott's case, attorney Mark Silbergeld, said the trial was a waste of time. The state clearly failed to prove its case, Silbergeld said.

May said Scott's acquittal will not deter prosecutors from bringing charges against other teachers if they think a child has been assaulted.

`Not an embarrassment'

"We have cases that come out not guilty," May said. "This is not the first not guilty, and it certainly won't be the last. It's not an embarrassment. It was a very serious case based on the evidence we had. If we had not tried the case, then the question is: `Why didn't you try the case?' "

The state's attorney's office reviewed 30 allegations of teachers committing child abuse or assault from September 1998 through May 1999. Of those, five resulted in charges, including Scott's case, May said. The disposition of the other cases was not known last week.

Zimmerman said he went to court monthly to defend teachers until the law changed in 1995, providing teachers more protection from such charges than they had had.

Zimmerman said he receives an average of 30 calls a year about investigations by police, the state's attorney's office or social services against teachers. Most of the investigations don't pan out, he said.

Scott said she isn't sure why she was prosecuted. She was surprised, she said, when she learned that the police had gotten involved.

It's not clear whether past charges against Scott affected a decision to involve police or whether those charges were related to students. She was charged in 1994 with battery and malicious destruction of property, but prosecutors never brought the case to court. She was charged in 1998 with second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property, but the charges were dismissed.

Scott, who earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, declined to discuss the charges.

It isn't clear whether the boy's mother, Tammy Malone, called police after arriving at Rosemont Elementary School on March 31, or whether a school official notified authorities.

Scott, 41, said she never struck Kevin. The boy was sent for a time-out that morning, before the nosebleed, because he was disrupting class, she said.

His nosebleed could have been caused by several factors, including the classroom's hot, dry conditions and his picking at it, Scott said.

Fears career in jeopardy

Scott has taught children for about seven years, in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Wilmington, N.C., where she taught reading and math. She also spent about five years in the Army. Despite her acquittal, she fears the trial and its publicity might jeopardize her teaching career.

She has reapplied to work in Baltimore City schools. School spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt said Scott's application will be considered like any other.

Pyatt said Scott was hired in 1997, at a time when background checks were done manually and took months.

School officials were not aware of past charges against Scott, she said.

But Scott isn't sure she'll get a fair chance to teach here again.

"If they don't rehire me, I would like to know why, because they need teachers badly," Scott said. "I have the experience. I'm qualified."

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