Local Teacher Cleared Of Child Abuse, Assault
SNOW HILL - A longtime Ocean City Elementary School teacher accused of child abuse and assault after allegedly throwing a problem student to the floor during a summer school session last July was cleared of all charges this week in an emotionally charged trial in Worcester County Circuit Court.
Sheridan Hurley Brueckner, 64, a teacher at OCES for several decades, was charged with child abuse and second-degree assault for allegedly lifting a 6-year-old student from her desk and throwing her to the ground during an altercation at a summer school session last July. At the outset of the trial on Wednesday, the child abuse charge was dropped and the proceedings opened on the second-degree assault charge.
After hours of testimony from fellow teachers and administrators on Wednesday, a Worcester County Circuit Court jury returned a verdict of not guilty on the second-degree assault charge after deliberating for just 15 minutes. The verdict completely clears Brueckner, who has been on administrative leave since the alleged incident and has missed most of the current school year.
According to the formal statement of charges against Brueckner, a referral was made by OCES educational assistant Leah Loch to Worcester County Social Services regarding the alleged abuse and assault on July 10, four days after the alleged incident. Loch reportedly told school administrators and counselors about the alleged incident and was told to make a formal referral to Social Services.
Based on the referral made to Social Services, Maryland State Trooper Thomas Moore investigated the case at the school. Brueckner denied physically abusing the child, and the alleged victim reportedly told police she was not physically abused, but an application for a formal statement of charges against Brueckner was filed based on the testimony of the educational assistant.
Loch told investigators the child, who has fetal alcohol syndrome and has behavioral issues, was working at her desk near Brueckner's desk when the teacher began yelling at the student to stop creating problems and do her work. According to Loch's testimony, the situation escalated to the point where Brueckner lifted the child from her desk and threw her on the ground where she landed on her back.
After the charges were filed against Brueckner, Peninsula Professional Services, a local detective agency, was contracted by the defense to conduct its own investigation into the alleged charges. That investigation revealed several inconsistencies in Loch's story and punched more than a few holes in the official investigation of the incident conducted by the police.
For example, the incident allegedly happened at 9:30 a.m. on July 6, but at 9:42 a.m., the alleged victim went to the school nurse for a splinter in her finger. The student did not show any other physical signs of injury and was not upset or crying, despite allegedly being thrown to the floor just 12 minutes earlier.
The alleged victim went back to the school nurse at 11 a.m. on the day in question to replace the Band-aid applied earlier and returned again at 12:30 p.m. to receive her daily medications, and still made no mention of the alleged traumatic incident earlier in the day. In addition, the educational assistant's testimony mentions two other students by name who were visibly upset by the alleged incident, but those students later told police and private investigators they had no recollection of the alleged abuse.
Despite denials by both the student and the teachers, and conflicting stories from witnesses to the alleged incident, the case proceeded to trial. As many as 15 teachers and administrators from OCES testified during the trial, both from first hand knowledge of the alleged incident and as character witnesses.While the not guilty verdict turned in by the jury clears Brueckner of any wrongdoing from a criminal standpoint, the teacher still faces an administrative hearing conducted by the state on the issue.