Judge overturns guilty verdict on teacher who kicked chair from under student, even as shocking video footage emerges
A grainy surveillance video in the middle of a now-overturned conviction of a middle school teacher from New Jersey in an incident where she allegedly kicked the chair out from under a student was released to the public for the first time on Monday, June 10. The teacher, 42-year-old Kimberley Peschi from Galloway, was initially found guilty of simple assault after she was accused of tipping a student's chair backwards at the Belhaven Middle School in Linwood back in 2017.
The Press of Atlantic City reported that the sixth-grade student, whom she was supervising during lunch in the cafeteria, was leaning back in the chair when Peschi came and kicked it and caused him to fall and hit his head on the floor. The child was not severely injured in the incident.
After a public records request was filed, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office released the security camera footage of the incident. In the video, which is less than 20 seconds long and blurred to protect the identities of the students, Peschi's contact with the student in question is brief and can barely be made out. She can be seen walking across the room towards the student wearing a lilac cardigan. She lifts her right leg and then can be seen kicking out his chair.
Northfield Municipal Judge Timothy Maguire found the music teacher guilty of simple assault in May 2018 and also said that the surveillance footage was the strongest evidence of deliberate behavior in the incident. He ordered her to pay around $200 in fines and court fees. Peschi was also ordered to forfeit her public employment in fall 2018 for going "well beyond corrective behavior".
After an appeal was made by Peschi, however, Superior Court Judge John Rauh overturned the guilty verdict on May 3 this year and took the order that required her to forfeit her teaching license off the table. According to The Press of Atlantic City, Rauh said that after watching the video, Peschi's claim that she had been trying to stabilize the chair was "plausible".
Rauh said: "Given the brief period of the time the whole incident took place, I am not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted purposely, knowingly or recklessly with regard to the injury to the child. She certainly intended to put her foot on that chair, but the state of mind has to go to the injury to the child."
Her lawyer, Robert Agre, said that his client was "greatly relieved" by the judge's decision and added that because she was found not guilty, the state cannot appeal the case. The mother of the student, who is now in the eighth-grade, Michele Tourigian, said that she was "disgusted and hurt" by the ruling. She said: "The video does not lie. She assaulted my son."