Mohammed Dukuly clung to life Wednesday at Hennepin County Medical Center, surrounded by family and friends praying that he might recover from a savage beating by a student at the Minneapolis alternative high school where Dukuly works.
“Insha’Allah [God willing], God will restore him,” Dukuly’s mother, Fanta Konneh, said through a translator. “I have a lot of faith. I’m asking the public to pray for my son and to keep my family in your prayers.”
While Dukuly, a paraprofessional at Harrison Education Center, lingered in critical condition, the student accused in the attack was charged Wednesday with assault.
Corey David Burfield, 18, of St. Paul, faces one count of first-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said.
He remained jailed in lieu of $150,000 bail, with an initial court appearance scheduled Thursday.
Surveillance video of the attack showed Burfield grabbing Dukuly’s belt where keys to the building were attached, according to the criminal complaint. Dukuly reportedly tried to push Burfield away and Burfield grabbed him by the shirt, shoved him into a wall and then to the ground, punching Dukuly numerous times on the head and neck with a closed fist, the complaint said.
Dukuly, 43, suffered head injuries and was “unconscious but breathing” when emergency responders arrived about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday at the school in the 500 block of Irving Avenue N., according to 911 dispatch audio.
Minneapolis Public Schools did not respond to repeated calls for comment Wednesday. In a statement Tuesday, district officials gave few details about the situation, acknowledging only that “a staff member was injured and in need of emergency medical attention” and adding that police were investigating.
In the initial incident report, police said the 18-year-old was accused of “inflicting great bodily harm.”
A string of similar violent acts erupted a few years ago at Harrison, an alternative high school for teens with severe emotional and behavioral disorders, and at a nearby alternative school for younger students.
In January 2016, a 17-year-old Harrison student was charged with repeatedly punching Principal Monica Fabre in the face, giving her a concussion. The student, Lashawnte Bright, pleaded guilty to felony third-degree assault and gross misdemeanor assault.
Earlier that same month, a 14-year-old boy was arrested in connection with an assault on a female teacher at the center. In an assault in December 2015 on a Harrison paraprofessional, an 18-year-old student was cited by police.
Another attack on a teacher in November 2015 at the district’s River Bend Education Center, a K-8 alternative school, sent the instructor to the hospital.
Daveona Jones, 18, said she witnessed Dukuly getting punched by Burfield and said Dukuly did nothing to provoke the young man’s aggression. She said Dukuly had just left the bathroom when Burfield and another male student approached him. The other student started to prod Dukuly’s disabled hand while Burfield tried to snatch Dukuly’s walkie talkie and began to punch him until he fell to the ground, she said. Jones said she and a staff member tried to stop Burfield from hitting Dukuly, but Burfield then tried to attack the staff member.
Besides forcing students to go through metal detectors and taking away cellphones, she said, the school lacks safety measures.
“Dukuly is not the first one [assaulted]. He’s like the fifth,” Jones said. “It’s the school’s fault, and it’s Corey’s fault.”
The rash of attacks on staff members at Harrison prompted district leaders to call a news conference in 2016 at the school to reassure the public that they were doing all they could to ensure a safe atmosphere.
Dukuly’s family on Wednesday said they’re not satisfied with the district officials’ gestures and are calling on school leaders to “put measures in place to avoid such tragic incidents in the future, not just for the staff but for students as well.”
Shaun Laden, president of the educational support professionals chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said he was talking to stewards and building leaders about the protocols in place at Harrison and whether they were followed. Michelle Wiese, president of the federation, was also at the school Wednesday, meeting with staff.
“Our staff and students need safe and healthy places to learn and work at and that’s what we’re advocating for,” Laden said.
Dukuly is a father and a leader in the local Liberian community and of the Minnesota African Task Force Against Ebola, a group that formed to combat the Ebola virus and educate people about the disease.
At one point during the day, his family brought in an imam and contemplated whether to take Dukuly off life support. But around 1:30 p.m., he again showed signs of life, slowly opening his eyes.
“Mohammed, Mohammed!” cried his uncle who shares the same name, Imam Mohammed Dukuly. “You’ll be OK.”
The uncle then glanced at the family and said: “We will continue to keep him on life support.”