A 16-year-old St. Paul boy whose violent attack left a teacher with a concussion, prompting widespread concerns over school safety, was sentenced Tuesday to 90 days of intensive supervised probation and electronic home monitoring.
The teenager pleaded guilty in December in Ramsey County District Court to felony third-degree assault and gross misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and obstruction of legal process for the Dec. 4 assault at Central High School.
Authorities say he slammed the teacher to the ground after the teacher tried to break up a fight. His attorney, Diane Dodd, made a surprise assertion Tuesday, saying the teacher used force first. Dodd said that a video posted to Twitter showed teacher John Ekblad holding on to her client’s neck and head and swinging him around. The force of Ekblad’s actions caused the teen to bump into a trophy case and suffer a concussion, and that’s when he took the actions against Ekblad that landed him in court, Dodd maintains.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Jill Fedje and Ekblad’s attorney, Philip Villaume, both disputed Dodd’s interpretation of the events.
Fedje said she saw the video and gave it to Dodd, and that Dodd’s characterization of the events was “totally unsubstantiated.” Several eyewitnesses provided statements to authorities that contradict Dodd’s take on what happened that day, Fedje said. Ekblad did not harm the teen, Villaume said Tuesday.
“Clearly the defendant was the aggressor in a fight with some other students…,” Villaume said. “There was physical contact [between Ekblad and the 16-year-old] as part of his effort to break up the fight.”
Ekblad, 55, said at a news conference in late December that he had no memory of what happened.
The boy attacked Ekblad after Ekblad tried to break up a fight between the boy’s brother, a freshman, and a senior. The 16-year-old grabbed Ekblad in a chokehold and slammed him into a table and chair, and onto the floor. Ekblad passed out for 10 to 20 seconds and was hospitalized with a concussion.
The Star Tribune generally does not identify teens charged in juvenile court.
Ramsey County District Judge James Clark didn’t address Dodd’s take on the video before handing down the sentence, which followed a probation officer’s recommendation.
Clark also chose to sentence the teenager on the felony count, because it would prohibit him from owning guns in the future. Dodd tried to dissuade the judge from such action, and said she’d later file a motion to challenge the gun prohibition.
A probation officer at the sentencing said that after “extremely difficult” consideration, she was recommending intensive supervision of the boy in his home instead of sending him to a residential treatment facility. She noted that he has already been on supervised release since his guilty plea.
Fedje disagreed with probation, saying that the student should receive care in a treatment facility to understand what triggered his violent outburst.
“He is an untreated and violent offender,” Fedje said. “No one has any insight” into his behavior.
Fedje said that any treatment the boy must undergo while on supervised release will be less rigorous and less frequent than treatment in a facility.
In a victim impact statement, the assistant principal said the attack was malicious, has left him with night terrors and sweats and struggling to engage with his family and everyday life.
Ekblad said in his statement that he skipped the sentencing because of his health. Last month, he announced a claim against the school district alleging that it created an unsafe environment, and said he suffers from headaches, numbness in his arm, vision problems and hearing loss.
Dodd argued that her client should be supervised at home because he worked full-time and had never been in court before.
The boy’s father and mother also spoke, telling the judge that their son is a “good kid” who understands the consequences of his actions.
“He’s trying to take good things from what happened here…,” his father said.
Addressing points Fedje made earlier about the teenager having attended four schools by his junior year while earning a grade-point average of 0.53, his mother said that the family moved a lot, and that many of her son’s credits did not transfer from a private school.
The boy apologized to his victims and his family, and pleaded for leniency, telling the judge, “You guys are supposed to care” about helping him.
The judge ordered him to undergo cognitive behavior therapy, aggression replacement therapy, serve 150 hours of community service, attend school and pay restitution to Ekblad and the assistant principal he pushed.
Fedje expressed disappointment with the sentence, but Villaume said, “The punishment appears to fit the crime at this point.”