Lawsuit alleges ASD has a pattern of trying to cover up abuse
The Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor's Office dropped charges of child abuse against an Anchorage School District teacher, but the district could still face legal trouble in civil court.
"I feel like it was complete injustice and that they didn't hear our side at all," Katherine Armon said.
ASD teacher Lynn Sherwood is accused of pushing Katherine and Nicholas Armon's 8-year-old autistic son Austin backwards into a wall. The parents discussed the alleged incident with KTVA in August:
"He can comprehend, he can verbalize, he can express his emotions and feelings until he gets angry. Once he gets angry, he becomes non-verbal. He becomes aggressive," Nicholas explained.
They say that's what happened on May 3. Austin was upset over a disagreement with other students about some paint supplies in Art Class. His frustration turned to anger as it was time to line up and he became disruptive.
That's when Katherine says surveillance video shows Sherwood stepping in.
"At that point, she just walks up and grabs him by the shoulder of his hoodie and yanks him out of line, pushes him up against the wall, at that point he's hitting her and kicking her, trying to get her to let go of him," said Katherine.
She says the video shows Sherwood pulling Austin down the hallway as his meltdown continues to escalate, then just before the questionable action takes place, Sherwood steps away from Austin and appears to be trying to call for help.
"At that point, she turns around and charges him into a corner where the door jam (sic) ended up bruising the back of his head and his back," said Katherine, demonstrating a pushing motion with both hands, later adding. "When she charges him into that corner, I mean you can see him drop to the floor."
Municipal prosecutor Seneca Theno wasn't confident the charges would hold up in front of a jury, saying in an emailed statement, "We reviewed the evidence in the case and concluded that we could not prove the charge of child abuse beyond a reasonable doubt."
The Armons believe releasing the video publicly would clear up speculation, but they say the district is refusing to give it to them.
In an on-camera interview with KTVA's Joe Vigil in September, ASD superintendent Deena Bishop was asked about the video:
Vigil: Do you want [the parents] to have this tape?
Vigil: And do they have this tape right now, do you know?
Bishop: Like, right now? As of my last update, yes. They have access to this tape. Yes.
Vigil: Access or have it physically? Either in-hand or on a computer where they can look at it?
Bishop: You should ask them.
ASD communications director Catherine Esary did not respond to questions Friday about why the district still hasn't released a copy of the video to the student's parents.
The difficulty of accessing the footage is noted in the Armons civil suit against the district, which Katherine says is not impacted by the dismissal of the criminal charges.
Filed in October, the civil court lawsuit claims:
- "District teacher Lynn Sherwood severely assaulted A.A., an 8-year-old autistic boy."
- "The District attempted to conceal the fact that Sherwood assaulted A.A."
- "The District has a long history of abusing children and attempting to cover up the abuse."
In response to questions about the lawsuit, Esary sent the following statement:
"The teacher is not presently in the classroom. The District cannot comment further at this time regarding an ongoing personnel matter. With regard to the civil lawsuit, ASD does not typically comment on ongoing litigation matters. We will say that many of allegations in the complaint are categorically false, and we refer to our prior statements with regard to ASD's complete cooperation with law enforcement. Anchorage School District's first priority is the safety of our students and every decision we make is based on that premise. We will share more information as we are able."
Esary said while Sherwood is not currently teaching, her return is being discussed. Sherwood is currently listed as a teacher on ASD's website.
Sherwood responded to a request for comment with a link to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Now that the video is no longer evidence in a criminal case, KTVA has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the video.
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