Judge dismissed a Crown application to establish McGrath had a violent M.O. when it came to disciplining children with exceptionalities
Witnesses testifying at the trial of elementary school principal Robin McGrath may have tainted their evidence by discussing it with each other before speaking to police, a provincial court judge said Friday.
Judge David Orr has yet to hear closing arguments from lawyers in the trial of McGrath, who is charged with four counts of assault and one count of uttering threats against children at his C.B.S. school during the 2017-18 school year.
On Friday morning Orr dismissed an application by the Crown to accept the allegations presented at trial had established a pattern of behaviour in McGrath.
Prosecutor Shawn Patten had asked Orr to accept the allegations as similar fact evidence, arguing they were similar enough to establish McGrath had a propensity to react to behavioural issues in children with special needs with anger and violence. Had Orr accepted the application, Patten could have used the allegations to bolster his case, arguing they showed, altogether, that McGrath had a violent approach to disciplining the students.
Orr said there were consistent elements in the witnesses’ testimonies about the alleged assaults, but not enough to pass the test to be deemed similar fact evidence.
“It was clear that almost all of them took place when Mr. McGrath was attempting to discipline a student or address non-compliance,” the judge ruled. “However, the variation in each situation essentially only results in a description of the accused acting angrily when confronted by different types of issues.”
Orr also said he wasn’t convinced the witnesses had not colluded and tainted their evidence as a result, as lawyers Ian Patey and Tom Johnson had suggested.
“It was clear that all of the witnesses did discuss the allegations with each other and did so on more than one occasion and in detail,” Orr said.
Some school staff testified they saw McGrath angrily pick up and slam down chairs while children were sitting in them, grab children by the face and lean in close to yell at them, physically restrain them, step on a child’s hand until the boy cried out in pain and douse a child with cold water until he vomited. One teacher testified McGrath had asked her for a pair of scissors before holding them up to a child and threatening to “chop (their) fingers off.”
Other school staff told the court McGrath was appropriately stern with children and never abusive.
None of the staff members who said they had witnessed McGrath abuse the children had reported it immediately, with a number of them telling the court through tears they had been scared of the principal and disturbed by what they described as a culture of fear he had established in the school. The allegations weren’t disclosed until the end of the school year, when one of the staff members went to the guidance counsellor, who brought the concerns — and her own — to the school district. Other staff members followed suit and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary began investigating. McGrath has been suspended from his job without pay since the allegations came to light.
McGrath’s case will be called in court again Dec. 11, when lawyers will present their closing arguments.
Tara Bradbury reports on the justice system and the courts in St. John's.
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- Guidance counsellor describes life of turmoil and fear after allegedly witnessing principal assault students