Bluffton, SC teacher accused of assaulting student, commenting about Nazis, Jews

Teacher's lawyer says it was part of 'interactive demonstration' on Holocaust

astice@islandpacket.comApril 30, 2012 

Patty Mulholland, a teacher in Bluffton, SC, is accused of assaulting a seventh-grade student and forcing him under his desk while making comments about Nazis and Jews.

A Bluffton Middle School teacher is accused of grabbing a seventh-grader by his shirt collar, forcing him under a desk and telling him, "This is what the Nazis do to Jews," according to the Bluffton Police Department.

The student's parents decided to press charges.

A lawyer for social studies teacher Patricia Mulholland said she was merely conducting an "interactive lesson" on the Holocaust during a class Wednesday.

Mulholland turned herself in at about 5:45 a.m. Monday on charges of third-degree assault and battery, and public disorderly conduct. She was released on her own recognizance later that morning, according to the Beaufort County Detention Center jail log.

Mulholland has been on administrative leave since Thursday, according to school district spokesman Jim Foster.

The alleged victim told authorities that as he was returning to his desk after sharpening his pencil, Mulholland grabbed him by the collar and said, "Come here, Jew," and dragged him 10 to 12 feet, according to the police report.

When she stopped dragging him, she pulled down on his collar and forced him under a table while making the remark about Nazis and Jews, the student told police.

The student reported he didn't know what to do and was "shocked and appalled." He told his parents about the incident that evening, and they decided to press charges against the teacher, according to police.

Ten witness statements by other students in the class that day "all coincide" with the story the student told police, Lt. Joe Babkiewicz said.

"Their accounts are all pretty much the same," Babkiewicz said, adding that the public disorderly conduct charge stemmed from allegations that Mulholland used obscenities in the classroom that were not directed at any particular student. He declined to provide the language used.

Several students took cellphone videos of Mulholland before the incident occurred that police reviewed during the investigation. The incident is not captured on video, but Babkiewicz said they show Mulholland talking about an upcoming talent show, singing and falling over while attempting to sit on a desk.

"Not once did she mention the Holocaust before this incident occurred," Babkiewicz said. "She was all over the place."

Mulholland's attorney, Robert E. Ferguson Jr., said the incident was not an assault but a history lesson on World War II that dealt with sensitive subject matter.

"It is not the result of anti-Semitism," Ferguson said.

Mulholland is an "active, enthusiastic" teacher who has worked in the school district for 23 years and is ready to address the allegations in Bluffton Municipal Court, Ferguson said.

Babkiewicz said investigators have determined the incident did not meet the standard of a hate crime. He also did not know whether the alleged victim is Jewish.

Bluffton Middle School principal Dereck Rhoads began investigating the incident Wednesday, according to Foster. A student in Mulholland's class told another teacher about the incident, and the teacher told the principal, Foster said. The district placed Mulholland on indefinite administrative leave Thursday morning, according to Foster.

The school district is working with police and is conducting an internal review, which includes interviewing anyone with "direct knowledge" of the incident, Foster said. He called any allegation of student mistreatment "a grave concern for us."

Foster said Mulholland taught seventh-grade social studies, was the faculty adviser for the school's drama club, and confirmed that she had worked for the district for 23 years.

"I have been in contact with the principal, and there is no description of any activity in her upcoming lesson plans that describe any of this," Foster said.

Both charges are misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in prison or a $500 fine, Babkiewicz said. Ferguson said Mulholland's court date is May 22.

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