A Spokane County jury last week acquitted a Central Valley High School teacher, who is also the varsity boys basketball coach, of assaulting a student last year.
A female student at the school told deputies her teacher, Michael D. Laws, placed his hands on the back of her neck and squeezed her while addressing the class the morning of Dec. 10, according to court documents. Two students grabbed their cellphones and took photos of the incident.
Laws, 55, was charged with fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor, but a jury found him not guilty of the charge after a three-day trial.
Laws’ attorney, Bevan Maxey, said the jury deliberated for 30 minutes before reaching a verdict.
“I think they were able to discern the spurious nature of the complaint,” Maxey said.
Maxey said Laws did not wish to speak about the case and allowed Maxey to speak on his behalf.
“It was just extremely unfortunate that a teacher who was simply trying to show support and encouragement to a student was accused of something that was unfounded,” Maxey said.
Laws was placed on administrative leave after the allegation. Marla Nunberg, director of communications at Central Valley School District, said Laws returned to teaching and coaching at the school.
Laws was a longtime assistant Bears boys basketball coach and took the head coaching position in 2018, according to a Spokesman-Review story. Maxey and Nunberg said Laws has taught at the school for several years.
Nunberg said she was unsure how long Laws was placed on leave, and that it’s the school district’s standard procedure to place a staff member on leave during any type of investigation.
Nunberg said she could not discuss the school district’s investigation into the incident or even say if there was an investigation. However, she said the district typically launches an investigation with an allegation like this .
The student told a deputy that Laws’ alleged inappropriate physical contact had increased leading up to the Dec. 10 incident, court documents said. The student reported Laws touched and grabbed her hands as she walked by, caressed her fingers after grabbing her hands, tried to hug her , placed his hand on the back of her head when she was bent over to pick up items from her book bag and held her head down while making sexual remarks during class, according to documents.
The student went to an urgent care facility after she alleged Laws grabbed her neck Dec. 10, court records said. She said in the documents that when Laws grabbed her neck, he said, “Do you know how easily I could choke her out? I’m just contemplating if I should or not.”
Laws told police Dec. 29 he did not remember details of the incident “because it was just another day for him,” documents said. He said he was placed on administrative leave because of the incident and knew a little about what was reported.
Laws told police he speaks with his hands and uses contact constantly during his instruction. He said he likes to grab onto students’ shoulders, arms, necks and hands to connect with them. Laws said he did not mean anything negative by the contact and had no intention of scaring, intimidating or making the student feel uncomfortable.
The deputy told Laws in December the student wanted to press charges, and since Laws admitted to placing his hands on her and he had a copy of the photos of Laws holding the student by the neck, he arrested Laws on suspicion of assault.
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