Police investigate fight at Patapsco High broken up by councilman

February 26, 2010|By Bryan P. Sears | Patuxent Publications

A fight between two Patapsco High School students has led to an investigation of the incident involving the role that a substitute teacher, Baltimore County Council member Vince Gardina, had in restraining one of the students to break up the altercation.

Police are investigating the incident, according to a Baltimore County police spokesman, Lt. Robert McCullough. School officials and the county Department of Social Services are also looking into the matter -- a process that McCullough said is standard for all cases that involve teachers and students.

"It's done in every case," he said.

Gardina, interviewed Thursday, said he would like to discuss the incident, but felt that school policy prevents him from commenting.

The incident began around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in the classroom where Gardina, as a long-term substitute, was teaching engineering and technology, according to McCullough.

According to the police report, the spokesman said, several students were tossing coins back and forth behind Gardina's back.

"They were basically messing with [Gardina]," McCullough said.

In describing the incident, McCullough said one student was struck by a coin, stood, challenged another student and the two began to fight.

Gardina attempted to break up the fight and pull the students apart, the police spokesman said. "It appears he was trying to control the kids, trying to break up the fight."

One student, a 15-year-old boy, was sent to the nurse's office. The Police Department's school resource officer was then sent there to respond to a complaint of an injured student, McCullough said.

McCullough said that the officer, in his report, wrote without elaboration that he saw four red marks on the left side of the boy's neck.

The report states that the student claims the marks were inflicted by Gardina, McCullough said.

Gardina referred to the matter as "an incident that is a typical everyday occurrence," but declined to elaborate.

Parents of both students declined to press charges against either teen, McCullough said. He also said charges from police against the teens are unlikely.

Although police are investigating the incident, as per policy, no formal complaint has been filed.

Asked about the possibility of charges against Gardina, McCullough said, "I can't speculate about that," and repeated that the matter is still under investigation.

He said he did not know how long the investigation would take. Results of the investigation will be turned over to the county state's attorney's office, which will review the matter and determine if charges are warranted, McCullough said.

Charles Herndon, a school system spokesman, acknowledged that an "incident" had occurred but referred questions to police. He declined to answer questions specifically about Gardina, saying it was a personnel matter.

Full-time teachers are typically placed on administrative leave in situations where inappropriate physical contact is alleged between a teacher and a student, according to Herndon.

Substitute teachers are "removed from the classroom and removed from the school," he said, adding that substitutes are also taken off the list of available replacements until the issue has been resolved.

In an interview Wednesday, Gardina said he started a job as a long-term substitute at the school Jan. 29.

In a separate review, county attorneys are studying Gardina's placement in that job to see if it violates the County Charter, which bans council members from holding state or county jobs while they are in elected office.

Earlier versions of this article mischaracterized the result of the altercation that involved Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina while he was working as a substitute teacher. Police and other agencies are investigating a fight between two students in which Gardina intervened, but a student did not file a formal complaint. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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