A Toronto elementary school principal, Sean Hume (“Hume”), was found not guilty of one count of assault last week after his trial finally came to a conclusion. Hume’s trial began last February and underwent several disruptions, including a change in defence lawyers and the court shutdown due to COVID.
THE PLAYGROUND INCIDENT
The incident before the court occurred on September 19, 2018 during lunchtime recess. Hume, the principal of Chester Elementary School, was in the schoolyard when he was advised about an upset student in the playground.
Hume approached the playground and found a nine-year-old boy “in crisis”. At his trial, Hume described the boy’s behaviour as “calling out for help”. The young student was spitting, swearing using racial slurs and throwing things.
Hume attempted to de-escalate the situation by speaking calmly and attempted to keep the boy’s attention on himself and not direct his distress towards the other children in the playground.
Hume took out his cellphone to request that the school office call the boy’s parents, and if they couldn’t be reached to call the police.
Earlier in the year, Hume had spoken to the grade 4 child’s parents who had advised of their son’s anger issues and confirmed that once he was triggered, it was difficult to restrain him. His parents did provide advice regarding one type of restraint that may work in times of crisis, which involved a hug from behind.
On the day in question, Hume attempted the restraint recommended by the boys’ parents, unfortunately it proved disastrous.
Hume attempted to speak to the child calmly and direct him to the school office. When Hume went to grab the child near his neck/shoulder area, the boy dropped to the ground and grabbed Hume by the leg. Hume then lost his balance attempting to break free, at which point he may have made contact with the child. According to the trial decision by Justice Stephen Clark, “any contact made by his foot was not intentional”.
The events in the playground finally came to an end when the child’s father arrived. At this point, Hume’s shirt was ripped and he had been kicked, punched and spat on.
Hume was charged by police two days following the incident after the child reported that his principal had pinned him to the fence, shoved him back and placed his knee on his stomach for at least a minute causing him to be unable to breathe. Hume pleaded not guilty to assault.
VIDEO EVIDENCE BEFORE THE COURT
At the trial, the court watched three separate short cellphone videos of the playground occurrence between Hume and the fourth grader that were recorded by a teacher at the school from her second-floor office.
The first clip showed the child throwing objects from the playground at Hume. The second video showed the child spitting in Hume’s face and within seconds Hume appears to be behind the child and seems to grab him and push him to the ground. Hume proceeds to stomp on the boy’s arm and tries to release his leg from the boy’s grasp.
The third clip shows the child’s father approach the playground and walk the child away.
According to the teacher who filmed the incident, she testified that the encounter scared her and that the child seemed “clearly out of control”. She also testified that Hume was “almost egging him on”. She found the whole incident hard to watch and stated:
It’s hard to watch a kid being pushed, thrown on the ground and stomped on, a kid that I know has a hard time.
Justice Clark accepted Hume’s evidence at trial and found him to be transparent, acted in a “controlled” way to restrain the student and was “not interested in taking the law into his own hands”.
According to the court’s decision, Hume was attempting a “controlled” method to restrain the child in an attempt to prevent further actions.
The court heard evidence that the child was diagnosed with anxiety and is prone to outbursts both in school and at home, at which time he will scream, swear, throw objects, punch and kick.
Justice Clark determined that the young boy’s capacity for observation and recollection were inconsistent. In his decision, Justice Clark stated:
I assure him, and his parents, that he is not the “bad guy” in this unfortunate incident. However I do not find his account to be particularly reliable.
Hume was acquitted of the charge of assault
If you or a loved one have been charged with an assault or related criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times. We are available when you need us most.