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
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
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
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.