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March 11, 2014

Jury finds PA teacher Ruby Gunner not guilty of assaulting fourth grader

BEAUMONT — A jury found Port Arthur elementary school teacher Ruby Gunner not guilty of assaulting a fourth-grade student last year.

The verdict was announced just after lunch time Wednesday after the jury spent the morning listening to closing arguments from the prosecution and defense.

Jurors heard varying accounts from five different witnesses on Tuesday in the trial of Gunner, a former Robert E. Lee Elementary teacher who taught in the Port Arthur Independent School District for 40 years, was indicted in May 2013 on one charge of injury to a child in connection with the April 5 incident. Gunner has since maintained her innocence, saying that any injuries she inflicted were the result of self defense.

The student told a different story during a cross examination by Houston criminal defense attorney Paul Darrow in Judge John Stevens’ courtroom Tuesday morning. He said the first altercation occurred when Gunner blocked the door to her classroom when he tried to leave to attend a parade in the hallway. The student had been assigned a composition about his poor behavior, but said that Gunner had given him permission to write it in the hall.

After several attempts to leave the room, he said that Gunner shoved him. The student retaliated by kicking her in the leg, then “ran around the classroom cursing at her” before leaving to go to the counselor’s office, where he was then sent to teacher Trudy Goza’s room for his next class.

Goza said on the witness stand that she received a call from the counselor notifying her that the student had visited the office — something that educators say wasn’t uncommon for the 12-year-old, who was repeating fourth grade and had been suspended several times in the past for fighting.

“He had his moments,” witness Rizvan Quadri, principal at Lee Elementary at the time of the incident, said on the stand. “And he had accommodations.”

Goza testified that Gunner entered her classroom after the transition period and walked straight to the student’s desk. The child said that Gunner demanded to know if he had bragged to another student about kicking her, but Goza said she didn’t hear the two exchange any words before the confrontation turned physical.

The boy said he told Gunner, “You better let go of me.” He then kicked her in the stomach, knocking her into a desk. That’s when he tripped and fell, he said, and Gunner sat on his legs and began choking him.

While Goza said she didn’t see who landed the first blow, she saw the child on the floor, gasping for breath as Gunner straddled him. She initially supported the student’s statement that he occasionally yelled, “Help, she’s trying to kill me,” but said later in her testimony that Gunner “was on top of him, and he wasn’t making a sound.”

“You could tell she was grabbing his neck,” Goza said. “Desks started flying.”

Goza made two emergency calls to attendance clerk Erika Alvarez, who hung up both times because she was unable to hear over the sound of screaming from the other children in the classroom. Following a “frantic” call from another teacher, Alvarez and three other administrators ran to Goza’s classroom, where she said they found Gunner on top of the student and Goza “in shock, shaking and crying.”

“She said, ‘I tried to take her off of him,’” Alvarez said.

Three of her colleagues then took the student to the nurse, she said.

Prosecutor Clint Woods presented several photographs of the child’s injuries, which included scratches above his right eye and below his left eye, and several marks in the area of his neck.

Deputy Sergeant John Ochoa, who had just arrived for the school routine truancy check at the time of the incident, interviewed the boy and his mother at their home later that day.

“His injuries were still very visible,” Ochoa said on the stand.

The trial will resume 10 a.m. Wednesday in Judge Stevens’ courtroom.

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA

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