A former teacher who threw a chair in his classroom, hitting and injuring a student, pleaded guilty Monday morning to a misdemeanor assault charge.
Thomas Barnes, 49, was fired from his job as an art teacher at Benton Harbor Charter School Academy earlier this month after he lost his cool in class and threw a chair, hitting 11-year-old Antownisha Johnson in the head. Her parents took her to the hospital after school and she was diagnosed with a mild concussion, her mother has said. The mother said the child was sent home on the bus at the regular close of school that day.
Barnes was initially charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, a four-year felony, but in a deal reached with the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office, pleaded guilty Monday to aggravated assault, a one-year misdemeanor.
“I was trying to get a lesson going, and the class was unruly. Someone in the back kicked a chair, and I picked it up and threw it,” Barnes told Berrien County Trial Court Judge Angela Pasula. “I am just mortified that this happened. I’ve worked with children over 18 years and I would never intentionally harm a student. Children are gifts from God and should be nurtured. I am so sorry.”
Barnes’ lawyer, Jolene Weiner-Vatter, presented 14 letters people wrote to the court that, according to Pasula, “are full of high praise for (Barnes).” He has no criminal record. But, the judge said, “When you send young children to school you expect them to be safe.”
This was his first year at Benton Harbor Charter School Academy, having come from a military academy in Indiana. Barnes, of St. Joseph, told the judge he has family in this area.
Pasula said she saw nothing to indicate that Barnes intended to hurt anyone. She sentenced him to 9 months’ probation, fines and costs of $965 and 50 hours of community service. She also sentenced him to 30 days in jail, credit for two days served, to begin July 1, 2019, but to be suspended if he is doing everything required of him and the judge receives a positive recommendation from the Probation Department. As part of his probation, he cannot work at any job in which he would have authority over children.