Legal expert weighs in on criminal probe of Virginia first-grader shooting: 'Enough for criminal charges'

Legal expert weighs in on criminal probe of Virginia first-grader shooting: 'Enough for criminal charges'

A legal expert weighed in after prosecutors in Virginia said that a criminal investigation into staff members at Richneck Elementary School, where a 6-year-old shot his teacher, would continue into the child's missing disciplinary files.

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Fox News Digital that LaQuiche Parrott, the director of Elementary Leadership, could be charged with both criminal prosecution and civil liability.

"Taking or destroying records related to a criminal investigation is a crime," he said. "Parrott can be charged with obstruction of justice. This is in addition to the substantive child neglect charges that Parker is facing."

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Rahmani said that this is a particularly interesting case because the case involves teachers who had an "affirmative duty" to protect their students.

"This is a unique case because a failure to act is usually not enough for a criminal prosecution, though it can give rise to civil liability," Rahmani said. "But because the teachers had an affirmative duty to protect their students, and they failed to do so, their inaction is enough for criminal charges."

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"And of course any attempt to cover up a crime or impede a criminal investigation is a separate charge," he added.

On Thursday, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn said at a news conference that prosecutors are working to decipher how the student's disciplinary records disappeared.

"We’ll work with the school system to try to ferret out how this happened," Gwynn said. "And based on the facts of the law, if we believe somebody else needs to be charged, trust me when I tell you, they will be charged."

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Gwynn's comments came after a special grand jury report about last year’s shooting at Richneck Elementary School brought up concerns about Parrott’s "suspicious lack of memory" regarding the boy’s disciplinary file.

One file was returned by Parrott, but the file lacked the child's disciplinary records, the grand jury report said. The other was never found.

Attorney Diane Toscano said that the grand jury report laid out a "concerning trail of evidence" of the school allegedly "downplaying" the student's checkered past.

"The report lays out a concerning trail of evidence that apparently shows efforts by the school division to downplay disciplinary records prior to the shooting even taking place, and then hide them afterwards," Toscano said. "If the citizen panel believes this may have been a cover-up, which is their words, I have no reason to doubt them."

Toscano said that the residents in Newport News, Virginia, have "not forgotten" the tragedy that impacted their school community.

"The special grand jury impaneled with citizens from the city of Newport News spoke loudly and clearly," attorney Diane Toscano said. "They said it ain’t over yet. They said we have not forgotten. They said, ‘No, Newport News school leadership, you will not escape accountability for this tragedy.'"

Ebony Parker
Briana Foster Newton, former Richneck Elementary School principal.

Ebony Parker, former Richneck assistant principal, is facing charges of felony child neglect.

The grand jury report stated that she showed a "shocking" lack of response to multiple warnings that the boy had a gun in the hours before he shot his first grade teacher, Ally Zwerner.

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The charging document alleged that Parker, who was responsible for Richneck students, "feloniously did commit a willful act or omission in the care of such students, in a manner so gross, wanton and culpable as to show reckless disregard for human life."

Parker, 39, was charged with eight felony counts which are each punishable by up to five years in prison.

The grand jury report revealed that the 6-year-old old student exhibited signs of violence prior to the shooting and should not have been enrolled in school.

The child "exhibited many behavioral problems" prior to the Jan. 6, 2023, incident where he shot his Zwerner with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.

The child was also reportedly disruptive during his kindergarten year to both fellow students and teacher Susan White, who was named in the grand jury report.

"Over the course of the kindergarten year the child exhibited many behavioral problems," the special grand jury report stated. "He was disruptive in class and to his teacher, Susan White. The child would get in other kids' faces and when removed from class by a counselor would occasionally hit or punch the counselor."

Abby Zwerner in court
Abby Zwerner, a teacher who was shot at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., by her 6-year-old student last year, talks to a reporter Wednesday in Virginia Beach, Va.

In another instance, the student choked another teacher of his in 2021.

"On September 27, 2021, Ms. White was concluding breakfast with the students when the child went to dump his breakfast in the hallway trash can and never returned. Ms. White went to search for him and found him with the security guard. When Ms. White tried to take his hand and bring him back to class the child hit Ms. White and yelled, "No! I don't want to go back to class." The child then aggressively twisted and pulled down on the security guard's wrist. Due to his behavior, the security guard took the child to [assistant principal- Dr. Parker, while Ms. White returned to class," the report said.

"At some point, Ms. White was sitting in a kid's chair teaching the class. The child went up behind Ms. White placed his forearms in front of her neck and pulled down so hard she couldn't breathe, choking her. The teacher's assistant saw Ms. White being choked by the child and rescued her by pulling the child's arms off and removing him from the class."

Despite the child's behavior, the student was returned to class and allowed to stay after school administration said there was "no administrator available to deal with the situation."

And despite instances of physical aggression and profanity, the child was not given an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or considered for an alternative school placement, the report said.


Original article source: Legal expert weighs in on criminal probe of Virginia first-grader shooting: 'Enough for criminal charges'