ROXBURY, NJ – After initially finding no cause for charges, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office is taking another look at the actions of a former Roxbury teacher’s aide accused of picking up a misbehaving 6-year-old pupil, holding him upside down and shaking him.
The prosecutor’s office initially told police to not file charges against the aide, according to a police report. However, pressure by the child’s persistent mother appears to have softened that position.
In an April 9 police report, Roxbury Police Patrolman Nicholas Ponomarev said a prosecutor’s office detective told him to drop the matter. Ponomarev said he was told the aide’s actions on March 23 were not serious enough to warrant charges of either simple assault or endangering the welfare of a child.
In the report, Ponomarev said he went to Kennedy Elementary School on the day of the incident at the request of school principal Eric Renfors, who also contacted the state Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). The patrolman said he later reported his findings to Roxbury Police Detective Jack Niemynski.
Ponomarev and Niemynski then contacted the prosecutor’s office and spoke with Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Craig May, says the report. “May advised us the incident was not a criminal matter and recommended no criminal investigation should be initiated,” wrote the patrolman. “Det. May further explained the incident did not fit either the simple assault or endangering statutes.”
Although the aide was not charged, she was suspended by the Roxbury School District, according to the police report.
Kim Yamashita, a Landing resident whose son, Colton, was the kindergartner involved in the incident, said she was told the aide was terminated, but. Roxbury Board of Education President Leo Coakley - contacted today - would not confirm that, noting the district does not reveal employee termination information.
On March 26, district human resources director Marianne Gibbs emailed Yamashita and assured her that "students' safety is first" in Roxbury. "With that being said, I can assure you, this matter has been handled, with the notion of keeping all of our students safe, not just Colton," she added.
Ponomarev’s report said the aide had already been suspended by the time he arrived at the school.
‘Hang Him By His Toes’
Yamashita, who is involved in Roxbury Girl Scouts and parent-teacher-organization activities, said her son is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), hypertonia and other conditions that can make him a difficult pupil. But she said the 51-year-old aide involved in the matter reacted with anger and abuse rather than patience and professionalism required in cases of "special needs" children.
In his report, Ponomarev - citing Renfors - said the aide was helping Colton with an arts and crafts project on the day of the incident. “Yamashita began ‘acting up’ in class and was not following instructions,” says the report.
It says the aide “threatened to hang Yamashita ‘up by his toes’ if he did not cooperate with her.”
A witness in the classroom told Renfors that Colton “continued to misbehave,” leading the aide to pick the boy up by his ankles and shake him “for several seconds while he was hanging upside-down,” according to Ponomarev.
Colton “began yelling,” prompting the aide to “release” him, says the report. Colton’s mother said her son landed on his head, an assertion not mentioned in the police report. She said the youngster did not sustain physical injury other than a small mark on his head, but was psychologically affected by the incident.
“He doesn’t have a concussion, but he was mentally harmed,” Yamashita said. “I took him to a psychologist and neurologist. They say he has a tremendous amount of anxiety that he didn’t have before.”
Yamashita also said the aide was verbally abusive to Colton. “It’s not in the police report, but this woman was calling my son names,” she said. “She was saying he was 'whining like a big baby.' She was calling him a 'big baby.'”
In his report, Ponomarev said Renfors told him a DCPP case was opened.
“Renfors stated, as per district policy, he was required to notify our department after making a DCPP notification,” wrote the patrolman. “Renfors stated the incident was currently being handled administratively” and that the aide had “been placed on suspension.”
Contacted Friday, Renfors refused to discuss the matter. Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic’s staff referred TAPinto Roxbury to district spokesperson Ann Rhodes, who did not immediately return a message.
Worth a Second Look
The matter appeared to be closed, in terms of any criminal investigation, until this week. On Thursday, two days after TAPinto Roxbury sought comment from the prosecutor’s office, Kim Yamashita and her husband were interviewed in person by May and Niemynski in Morristown, said Yamashita. She said Colton was interviewed separately by a child abuse specialist.
Yamashita said Morris County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Troiano greeted them and said he was sorry. “He apologized to me,” she said. “He said, ‘I sincerely apologize … Somewhere along the line this got lost.’”
While glad law enforcement is showing new interest, Yamashita said she remained miffed after being interviewed. “It just seemed like everybody was back pedaling and the CYA was coming into place,” she said.
Yamashita said she was particularly irritated when May told her the prosecutor’s office has been awaiting the DCCP report before deciding whether to charge the aide. “I said, ‘No. Your police report did not say that … You closed on this. You said no charges will be filed. You didn’t say you were waiting for reports.”
Contacted Friday, the prosecutor’s office said it could not discuss the case. “At this point, there is an active and open investigation by the MCPO into this matter,” said spokesman Peter DiGennaro in an email.
Yamashita, who said she is a former IRS investigator, said she might file a lawsuit against the aide. She said she is concerned the woman will find employment in another school district, something criminal charges might prevent.
On Thursday, Yamashita requested Renfors to launch a harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) investigation into the matter and asked that the classroom teacher’s actions also be probed. “She saw, many people did, the poor chemistry between this aide and my son and did nothing,” asserted Yamashita in the letter.
“I need closure on this,” she said in an interview. “I’m not trying to sue the district … I’m tired of living in a world where people can do things and not suffer consequences. I’m not trying to make any money from the district. I want the prosecutor to take these kinds of things seriously ... I will keep coming back until you do the right thing. I’m a pretty easy-going person, but I hate injustice. I absolutely hate it.”