I-Team

Student slapping witness comes forward after I-Team report

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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A key witness has finally contacted police, after seeing an ABC7 News I-Team investigation into the case of a high school special education teacher who slapped students and still kept his job.

Police told the I-Team that the Santa Rosa High School District refused to cooperate and refused to turn over the name of an adult staff member who saw this teacher striking students. Now, there is movement in the case.

"He called it a powwow," 16-year-old Michael Delgado said.

Delgado says several times last semester, special education teacher Willie Swindle called him into the hallway and smacked both his ears at the same time -- what some high school students call a "thunderclap."

Michael Delgado : "Then, they made a ringing sound."
Dan Noyes: "Oh, your ears made a ringing sound. I bet that hurt."
Michael Delgado : "Yeah, I thought I was going to lose my hearing."

At his parents urging, the school district investigated. IT did not confirm Swindle hit Michael with a thunderclap, but did find on at least two occasions he struck another student that way and that Swindle slapped Michael in the face other times and flicked, pinched and pulled his ears.

Michael's mother confronted the teacher when he stopped by the family's house unannounced.

"And I said, 'So, why are you hitting my kid?' and he's just like, you know, trying to deny it, and said, well, 'Michael plays the victim,' and I said, 'He is the victim, you're smacking my kid,'" Jeannie Delgado said.

Dan Noyes: "The family says that you struck Michael."
Willie Swindle: "Yeah."
Dan Noyes: "Is that true?"
Willie Swindle: "No, that was unfounded, they did an investigation."
Dan Noyes: "It was unfounded?"
Willie Swindle: "Yeah."

Even after being shown the district's findings, Swindle denied hitting any students.

It especially upset the Delgados when the I-Team found out the district refused to give police the name of a key witness -- an adult staff member who worked in Swindle's class last semester. Police say they asked for the name again and again.

"The school conducted a personnel investigation and they will not provide that information to us," Santa Rosa Police Lt. Ben Harlin said.

Dan Noyes: "The police tell me you didn't provide this information to them, why not?"
Assistant Superintendent Mark Klick: "I don't know what the police told you, Dan, to be quite honest."
Dan: "Well, it's going to be on TV, I'll show you on TV, I'm happy to tell you right now what they said."
Assistant Superintendent Mark Klick: "We have fulfilled our disclosure requirements."

Right after the first report, the key witness sent the I-Team an email. He works for another school now and doesn't want to be identified. He's angry about the district refusing to cooperate, so he has contacted police himself.

In the email, he identified himself as an aide in Swindle's class and said, "We all saw Mr. Swindle hitting his students." And, "I believe there were about 8 or 9 reports made last year from substitute teachers, teacher's aides, and 1 on 1 aides." As well as, "I think the school wants to avoid negative press because they asked another special ed teacher to take a leave of absence last year for similar behavior."

"It's very important to protect the most vulnerable citizens in this country," attorney Michael Fiumara said.

The Delgados have found a lawyer who has experience suing the same school district.

Michael Fiumara: "I've had a case where the mouth of a Tourette's syndrome young boy was taped, another case where a scissor was held up to the throat of an immigrant child who wasn't speaking English."
Dan Noyes: "At this district?"
Michael Fiumara: "At this district, so this is not the first time. This is the third time, this is the strike out."

The I-Team reached out to every member of the Santa Rosa City Schools Board of Education. The president was the only one who responded. Larry Hanael refused to be interviewed, but emailed to say the district takes such complaints seriously, saying, "The District undertook two investigations of the allegations" and "actions were taken. Since this is a personnel matter, the District cannot comment on the specifics of those actions&It is apparent that the parent in this matter is not satisfied and thus the Superintendent will be reaching out to the parent."

Hanael didn't answer how a teacher can slap at least two students in the head and keep his job. The I-Team will be at a school board meeting Wednesday to press for answers.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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