Student inmate assaults teacher then appeals his conviction | TCTA
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Gavel, law books and scales of justice

Student inmate assaults teacher then appeals his conviction

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A literacy teacher in the Windham School District was conducting classes in a prison when she was assaulted by one of her students, who was an inmate. She alleged that soon after she started her class, she saw the inmate engaging in disruptive behavior and asked him to stop. Because he did not cease his conduct, she started writing a referral on him for violating a classroom rule.

The inmate found out about the write-up and, when class was dismissed, he grabbed the teacher's head by the hair, pulled her out of her chair, and slammed her head against the classroom door. He then threatened to harm her and her family.

The inmate was convicted of retaliation and assault on a public servant and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The inmate appealed his conviction to the court of appeals.

The first conviction reviewed by the court was for retaliation. A person commits the offense of retaliation "if the person intentionally or knowingly harms or threatens to harm another by an unlawful act ... in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of another as a ... public servant."

The inmate argued that the harm inflicted on the teacher was not an attack for duties she had already performed. He argued that at the time of the assault, the teacher had merely begun the process of drafting her disciplinary referral against him and had yet to submit it to any prison staff. According to the inmate, because the referral was incomplete, the attack against her did not meet the legal definition of retaliation.

The court of appeals rejected this argument, finding that the only reason the referral was incomplete was because the inmate's assault prevented the teacher from completing it. It noted that one of the retaliation statute's central purposes is to encourage public servants to perform vital public duties without fear of retribution.

In this case, the teacher was writing a referral on the inmate. The inmate found out about the referral and asked to talk to her about it after class. After class, and before the teacher could complete the referral, he pulled her up from her chair by her hair and slammed her against the door, breaking her glasses. As he left the room, he grabbed the paper on which she had written the referral, wadded it up, and threw it into the trash. Under these facts, the court concluded that the evidence proved that the inmate's actions were in retaliation for the teacher's referral.

The second conviction was for assault on a public servant. One commits the offense of assault if he "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another. " An assault is a Class A misdemeanor, but the offense is elevated to a third-degree felony if committed against "a person the actor knows is a public servant while the public servant is lawfully discharging an official duty, or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a public servant."

The inmate argued that the trial failed to prove that he knew that the teacher was a public servant because she "concealed" her protected status as a public school teacher because she was wearing scrubs and merely proctored a literacy exam before the alleged assault occurred. There was no evidence that she was wearing a badge attached to her medical "scrubs" or to a lanyard hanging from her neck that identified her employment as a teacher with the school district. There was also no testimony that she struck the traditional pose of a classroom teacher — standing in front of chalkboard and lecturing — or offering individual instruction (tutoring) to an inmate struggling with the course material.

The court of appeals noted that if the evidence showed that the inmate was aware that she was a teacher at the time of the assault, the conviction was valid. The evidence established that the teacher was hired by the school district to provide literacy instruction to inmates. She testified that classes are held in the education wing in the prison, where there are multiple classrooms. She testified that each class is taught by an assigned teacher, and the teachers are not correctional officers.

Prior to the assault, the inmates were seated in a classroom and the teacher was proctoring a literacy exam during a literacy class. During the class, she sat at her stool by her projector or the podium and walked around the room. She took attendance and at some point, admonished the inmate for not following classroom rules. She started writing a referral on the inmate. He asked permission to speak to her about it outside, but she refused.

When class was dismissed, the teacher was sitting at the teacher's desk. She testified that she was wearing scrubs because during her training, she observed another teacher at the prison wearing scrubs. Under these facts, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to establish that the inmate knew that she was a teacher when he assaulted her.

The court of appeals upheld the conviction.