Vendiz Charles, a teacher who injured a student at Clare Hall Secondary School in January 2017, will not go to jail if he pays $20,000 in compensation to his victim within the 12-month period stipulated by the High Court.
Justice Iain Morley said if the physics teacher does not comply with the order, a jail sentence of six months would be imposed for his conviction for inflicting grievous bodily harm to Akeem Scotland, a student at the chool where Charles was a teacher.
Apart from that, if he commits any offence between now and the next year-and-a-half, the additional 18-month suspended sentence that the court handed down would take effect immediately.
The judge said he did not impose incarceration outright for a number of reasons. These included that Charles, “is not a present danger to Akeem [Scotland] or the public; there has been no history of poor compliance with court orders; there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation evident from his remorse; there is strong personal mitigation in that he is supported by his community and all his colleagues; incarceration will likely turn him to criminality whereas at liberty he can do good in the community if allowed to continue teaching.”
Over 100 teachers, staff at the school and others signed a petition asking for leniency towards Charles, saying his behaviour on the day of the incident was totally out of character.
A Probation Report, submitted to the court to help guide sentencing, revealed that he has been remorseful.
According to the evidence, it was around 4 p.m. on January 24, 2017 when Scotland and friends gathered to film him while he did stunts cycling in the school corridor, doing jumps from a high spot to a lower spot.
Cycling in the corridor is not allowed, yet this was being done, and one of the students started throwing stones to attract the attention of another student to join as a spectator.
The court heard that Charles was in the Physics lab and came out and told the student to stop throwing stones, while he also told them to stop riding in the corridor.
However, they continued disobeying the rules and the teacher, after repeatedly calling out to them, picked up a stone and threw it.
In his police statement, the court heard that Charles intended for the stone to go past the victim to get his attention.
At the time, the student was about 35 feet away from him.
The judge recounted that, “Tragically the stone in fact hit Akeem [Scotland] on the forehead, causing immediate bleeding. Charles went to his aid, Akeem passed out, Charles rang Akeem’s mother and, at the hospital, confessed to her he had thrown the stone.”
Once the police arrived, he pointed out where he had thrown the stone and, after he was charged, he was suspended from teaching.
The victim spent a week in hospital, a month out of school, remains on medication, suffers daily headaches, blurry vision and occasional cramps in his left hand; and his mother has reported that he sometimes blacks out.
According to the court’s record at the sentencing hearing, Scotland, now 16, asked to give evidence and said then that he did not want Charles to return to teaching at Clare Hall Secondary School.
The teenager said that’s because it would make him uncomfortable. He also denied knowing it was wrong to cycle in the corridor and that Charles had told him to stop. But the judge noted that this was contradicted by his friends’ statements.
In writing his judgment, the judge highlighted that, “On the one hand, this is an extraordinary action by a teacher to throw a stone to press for discipline; on the other hand, the court accepts he did not intend to hit Akeem [Scotland], and certainly not his head, expecting to alarm him instead; foreseeing the risk of perhaps some harm, but not the consequence that arose.”
The judge said by so doing, the teacher accepted the mens rea (intention or knowledge of wrongdoing) of the offence, though the extent of injury was inadvertent.
He warned, “It must be made very clear, however, this was not an ‘accident’: teachers should not throw stones to command discipline around students, and to do so, with injury arising, is a crime.” (Martina Johnson)