The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local News

August 31, 2007

Ex-PHS student guilty of assault

18-year-old exonerated from more serious charge in teacher assault

PALESTINE — An 18-year-old former Palestine High School student was found guilty of assault causing bodily injury Wednesday, stemming from an incident last fall during which he struck a teacher in the face with a closed fist.

An Anderson County jury deliberated for one hour Wednesday afternoon before finding Christopher Rashad Hall guilty of the lesser-included Class A misdemeanor offense of assault causing bodily injury.

The six-man, six-woman jury also found Hall not guilty of the more serious third-degree felony offense of assault on a public servant.

Prior to the trial, Hall had requested that the court — rather than the jury — assess his punishment if he was found guilty of an offense in connection with the Sept. 25, 2006 incident during which he struck Palestine High School teacher Karen Buckland in the face with a closed fist.

Assault causing bodily injury is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine not to exceed $4,000.

Had he been found guilty of the more serious charge, Hall could have faced between two-to-10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

Following Wednesday’s verdict, Third State District Judge Mark Calhoon ordered a pre-sentencing investigation be performed on Hall.

Hall’s punishment hearing was not immediately scheduled, but likely will take place before the end of the year.

Testimony during the trial showed that Buckland had intervened to stop an altercation between Hall and another student when the defendant hit her in the face, causing her to fall to the floor.

Buckland, an English teacher at the high school, was the final of seven witnesses called by the state Wednesday.

Buckland testified the bell had just rung on Sept. 25, 2006 ending one of the morning’s class periods when she heard fellow English teacher Tammy Armstrong “yelling from her room for help.”

Testimony showed during the trial that the teachers’ classrooms bordered one another.

Buckland testified she immediately responded to see “two students embroiled in a battle in her classroom...It looked like one student (Hall) was overpowering the other.”

After her instructions to stop were ignored by the students, Buckland testified she first grabbed Hall by the shoulder to “try to get his attention.” When this effort also failed, she demonstrated she then put one arm to the front of Hall’s body and then grabbed him by the shoulders, moving him to face her.

With the assaulting student now facing her, Buckland testified Hall “looked me in the eye and punched me.”

Buckland, who wore braces on her teeth at the time, sustained a cut lip, bloody nose and a loose tooth as a result of the assault, but did not go to the emergency room or require hospitalization, according to Wednesday’s testimony.

After being struck, Buckland testified she landed hard on her bottom on the room’s tile floor, while also hitting her head on the metal panel of a closet door during her fall.

“I was shocked and I know I was kind of dazed for a few moments,” Buckland testified when asked about her thoughts after being struck. “I couldn’t believe that had happened.”

After she was struck by the defendant, Buckland testified Hall immediately turned his attention back to assaulting the other student, Alexander Powell, “choking him in the throat with both hands.”

Ultimately, some students pulled Hall off of Powell and the fight was over, she further testified.

Testimony showed that Hall and Powell, who was a member of the junior varsity football team last year and is currently a running back for the varsity, were possibly arguing about football when the defendant allegedly made derogatory comments about some female students.

Hall initially began assaulting Powell when the latter asked him to discontinue the comments, according to testimony Wednesday.

Powell testified Wednesday that he did not fight back because he feared facing disciplinary action from the football coaching staff.

Powell sustained only minor injuries during the scuffle, testimony also indicated.

Defense attorney Phil Fletcher did not call any witnesses.

Under state law, public school teachers are classified as public servants, meaning that an assault of such an individual constitutes a third-degree felony.

The offender, however, must know their victim is a public servant.

Throughout the trial, Fletcher attempted to show that Hall did not know Buckland and, therefore, was unaware she was a teacher.

“She’s very youthful in appearance,” Fletcher said during the defendant’s closing argument. “She was 29 years old when this incident occurred. She had braces.

“I think she stuck her head in and got hit while the assault was going on,” Fletcher continued in his argument. “...This is a misdemeanor case, it’s not a felony case.”

Hall, meanwhile, remains in the Anderson County Jail in lieu of a $50,000 bond on an unrelated felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

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Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at pstone@palestineherald.com







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