On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FJ-16-2421-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 10, 2009
Before Judges Carchman and Parrillo.
Following a bench trial, appellant M.A. was adjudicated delinquent of an offense that if committed by an adult would constitute the fourth-degree crime of aggravated assault on a teacher while in the performance of his duties. N.J.S.A. 2C:12- 1b(5)(d). At the dispositional hearing, M.A. was placed on one- year probation and ordered to attend school, maintain passing grades, attend anger management counseling and avoid harassing contact with the victim. The court allowed for an adjourned disposition at the completion of the probationary term. M.A. appeals, arguing that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, and we affirm.
According to the State's proofs, since July 2007, Philip Long was employed as a social worker at the Gramon School in Fairfield, where M.A. was a student. Among his functions, Long conducts "interventions" with the students in the classroom and in the school. While in school, Long wears a badge with his name on it, which identifies him as a staff member of the school.
He was wearing his badge on the day of the incident with M.A., March 11, 2008. At 8:56 a.m., Long was opening student lockers, as part of his duties, when M.A. walked past him. When Long asked M.A. which locker was his, M.A. ignored Long and walked directly to the in-school suspension (ISS) room. As M.A. went to open the door, a female teacher inside the room came to the door to block his entrance. Concerned that M.A. was pushing against the teacher, Long walked up to M.A. and asked that he return to his area. Once again, M.A. ignored him, even when Long repeated his request. Long then put his hand around M.A.'s shoulder and told him that he needed to move along to his locker. M.A. responded by pushing Long.
To prevent an escalation of the situation, and based upon his mediation and crisis intervention training, Long attempted to get M.A. into the restraint position and away from the ISS room door. However, M.A. managed to extricate himself from Long's hold, push Long against the door, grab his right leg, and attempt to throw him down onto the floor. As he was pushed back, Long's left shoulder blade hit a door handle and was red, but not bruised. Because M.A. was then out of the doorway and back-up support had arrived, Long put his foot down and backed off so as to avoid M.A. falling to the floor, hitting the lockers, or getting hurt in some other way.
At the close of evidence, the judge found that M.A. had attempted to cause bodily injury to a school employee in the performance of his duties. Specifically, the judge concluded: I find based upon the facts and the testimony that the first element [of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(5)(d)] was, in fact, satisfied. I believe that the juvenile attempted to cause bodily injury to another..... I don't need to find that he knowingly or recklessly caused the bodily injury. I need to find that the attempt with... conscious act attempted to cause that injury.
And I think that pushing or lifting of the leg, both were described as two separate I'll say incidents. First, there was the backward push, then there was the lift of the leg. I think they both satisfy the element.
I find that the placement of the teacher's arm on his shoulder was not -- I don't find that to be threatening. I don't think anything about it as described was threatening. The restraint as described by the teacher was something that he says was somewhat common in instances where they believe that they need to avoid further altercation. In this case, he testified that he thought there may become a problem with the teacher that was within the classroom and he performed this restraint in order to try to get the juvenile away from this area, considering the fact that the juvenile ignored verbal request[s] twice.
I also find, and this is I think [is] important, that it's not disputed that the juvenile at some point became free from this restraint. And then he grabbed the victim's leg. And I think that's important because I think that shows that there was an intent to cause a bodily injury, because, quite frankly, the grabbing of the leg at that point wasn't necessary. He had been freed from the restraint, according ...