In Part 3, we heard the testimony of the alleged victim, P, and the School Resource Officer. Now let’s dive right into the testimony of the administrators. First up, Smyrna Middle School Associate Principal John Camponelli:
DiRocco: Mr. Camponelli, what is your position?
Camponelli: I am one of the associate principals at Smyrna Middle School.
DiRocco: And are you… were you aware of an incident that involved J in November of 2015?
Camponelli: I was made aware, yes.
DiRocco: How did you become aware?
Camponelli: I became aware because I received some statements from teachers and also was alerted, spoke to J and also P at the time when I became aware of that.
DiRocco: Okay. Let me first show you a document. You mentioned that you received a statement. Was one of the statements that you received from Emily Macklin? (the paraprofessional in the Home Economics class from the incident on November of 2015)
DiRocco had Camponelli verify the below document.
In the above picture, I had to redact J’s full name as well as go over some of the other names as I could clearly make out the actual name of students even though they were shaded.
DiRocco had Camponelli read the statement in the hearing.
DiRocco: Did you… what other… did you also receive an email from Mrs. Wright? (the Home Economics teacher)
Camponelli: I did.
Camponelli once again verified the statement from Wright.
Now it was time for statements from J and M from the November incident to be submitted which Camponelli verified.
DiRocco: And did J at the time, did he deny his conduct, or what did he… did you interview him?
Camponelli: I did.
Camponelli: I did speak to J, yes.
DiRocco: And what did he tell you?
Camponelli: Me and the other student were playing around. The other student said I smell guns… gun powder… excuse me. Then I said I smell a terrorist and pointed at… and what J is saying at another student. You will notice the handwritten note on the bottom that I noticed in looking at this. The other student’s name was omitted and said that he, being J, pointed at a girl is what I had at the bottom of the paper.
DiRocco: Okay. And what was the other student’s statement?
Camponelli: The other student’s statement was that me and J were talking guns, and I was laughing. So we kept on talking about it. So, no, we are here. I also said and J… excuse me… I also said, “And, J, I have guns in my locker,” but I don’t actually. It was just for some laughs. So we kept on talking about it and know we are in trouble. And that’s read from the statement from the other student.
DiRocco: Okay. Did you speak with any other witnesses during this?
Camponelli: I spoke to the victim P.
DiRocco: Okay. And her statement has already been included in the documents as the exhibits. (seen below) But how would you describe her behavior during your interview?
(some sidebar conversation about which statements are numbered as exhibits)
Camponelli: Her demeanor?
Camponelli: Was one that was forthcoming. She did not like to… she doesn’t like to call a whole lot of attention to herself. She was very brief in what she was saying to me, and then wrote the statement outlining her side of the story.
DiRocco: Okay. What was like the next… after you took the statements and everything, what else, if anything, did you do as part of the investigation?
Camponelli: Well, I would call… I called… the one student received the consequence, and that was dealt with accordingly. J was also called down, was issued a consequence for making inappropriate comments about having guns in school and made other comments about smelling a terrorist in school. He received a consequence for that. And a parent meeting actually ensued for which Mr. Gott, our principal, and Officer Weller were a part of to discuss the incident and how to make sure that things like this would not happen again so that we can make this a learning tool for everyone involved.
DiRocco: So as a result of your investigation, he was disciplined?
(more talk about what number to mark the evidence as exhibits)
DiRocco: And I’m going to… you had talked about a meeting with the parent in November of 2015 where Mr. Gott and Detective Weller were present. But I will actually ask Mr. Gott about that when he testifies next. So I don’t have any other questions for Mr. Camponelli at this time.
Powell: Okay. None, mom?
J’s mother: No.
DiRocco: Okay. Actually I would like to ask about the April 2016 incident, if I can.
DiRocco: Okay. So, Mr. Camponelli, were you aware of an incident involving J in April of 2016.
Camponelli: I was made aware, yes.
DiRocco: Okay, and what was your involvement with that?
Camponelli: My involvement was I happened to be in the office shortly after the incident in which P and her mother came into the office to state that there had been yet another incident, that occurred upstairs in the hallway in which the two students had walked past each other and a comment was made. And that was reported by the mother and also P at the time in the office.
DiRocco: Okay. And what, if anything, did you do as part of an investigation.
Camponelli: At that time?
Camponelli: I did speak to P and also to J, in which at the time… I will first start with J. J had said “Mr. Camponelli,” and I’m paraphrasing here… but, “Mr. Camponelli, I have had zero interaction with her since the incident in home ec.” And at that time I told him that I would continue to investigate, I appreciated his time and that, you know, if I would need him for anything else, I or, you know, a member of the administration would get in touch with him.
DiRocco: Did you take written statements from them, or was that Mr. Gott?
Camponelli: We have them here. I did.
DiRocco: Okay. So you took the written statement?
Camponelli: Yes. I believe the first one was already turned in from P.
DiRocco: So I will show you Exhibit 2 (looking for document)
Williams (Asst. Superintendent): This?
DiRocco: Yes. Let me… if you look at that, that’s Exhibit 2, is that the statement that you took from P?
DiRocco: Okay. And then… let’s see.
Camponelli: I’m going to backtrack here.
Camponelli: It says this was actually turned in… where the incident occurred, P actually completed this incident report in the school counseling office, which was right upstairs where the incident occurred. So that’s why it says Ms. Parker received this report on 4/20/16 at 2:37. I then took the statement from P about what she had written, and she collaborated it.
DiRocco: And when you spoke with P about it, she said that he had called her a terrorist in the hallway; is that correct?
Camponelli: That’s correct.
DiRocco: So then did you also take a written statement from J?
(marking the exhibit)
DiRocco: Okay. So what is this document?
Camponelli: This is a student statement written in order to get, you know, J’s side of the story as to this.
DiRocco: And what did J say in his statement?
Camponelli: Well, what is written…
Camponelli: …is that, “I said nothing inappropriate to anyone yesterday and never will.”
DiRocco: Okay. And the note at the bottom, is that your handwriting?
Camponelli: Yes. I put… that’s my notes at the bottom, reference to P, the victim. “Mom came in and said J called her a terrorist” is my note on the bottom. Typically what I will do is I will write just some notes at the bottom of the area where the students write after where I sign my statements… or under my signature, and just in reference to what the statement is about.
DiRocco: Okay. Did you also take any other witness statements, or was that Mr. Gott?
Camponelli: Mr. Gott actually took a statement from the witness.
DiRocco: Is that basically all of your involvement with this incident in 2016?
J’s mother had no questions for Camponelli.
DiRocco: I would like to call Mr. Gott as the next witness.
DiRocco: What’s your position, Mr. Gott?
Gott: Principal of Smyrna Middle School.
DiRocco: And were you aware of an incident that involved J in November of 2015.
Gott: I was.
DiRocco: How did you become aware?
Gott: I became aware in regard to the associate principal sharing the information with me. And then we reviewed the statements together. And the associate principal is obviously assigning a consequence. And with this incident, the student was suspended out of school. And upon returning to school, I scheduled a meeting with J’s mom along with our School Resource Officer. We typically do this in major discipline issues, fighting. You know, in this case inappropriate comments are made, just more of a counseling component when they come back just so we address the issue, we talk about possible solutions and basically a path moving forwards. But it was very specific in our conversation with mom that if it were to happen again, it would quite possibly involve police action. So we did make it clear to mom along with J at the meeting.
DiRocco: Okay. Now were you involved with the incident that took place in April of 2016 with J?
Gott: I was, very minimally. I know Mr. Camponelli initially began an investigation with the issue in April. Unfortunately, he went out for a couple of weeks on medical leave, but also our School Resource Officer Weller informed me that P and her mother did reach out to the police regarding a possible criminal investigation, so I wanted her to sort of get her investigation wrapped up before I get involved in getting other witness statements so it did not sort of cloud the water in regards to the investigation. I did take the statements. I did review the surveillance and did speak to the individuals. There were two other young men that were with J at that time. One of them did write a statement in regards to it. The other student did not because he indicated to me he saw nothing, he heard nothing, he knew nothing. So I wasn’t, obviously, going to get anything that he did not know, hear, or see.
DiRocco: Is this one of the student statements that you took?
Gott: It is.
DiRocco: Okay. And who… well, we won’t ask the student’s name, but the date is May 4, 2016?
Gott: Yes. Yes.
I’m sorry, but they got a statement from a witness two weeks after the fact? That is a bad investigation, period. I don’t care who is out on sick leave or what is going on. If the law states you have to put the incident on e-school within five days… more on that in a bit…
DiRocco: And why don’t you tell me how the student explained the incident in their statement?
Gott: Well, I will just go ahead and read the statement in the record.
Gott: The student basically shared with me. And I said, “Well, if you could just briefly just go ahead and jot down on a statement exactly what you just told me.” And that was it at that point in time. He indicated: We were walking down the hallway talking to each other when one of the students… when she ran between me and J. And what that student… J… and, actually, it was a third student… when J said terrorist. And the young lady started flipping out and threatened to hit J, and then we left.
I want to strongly point out a few things with the witness statement from the student I will refer to as “G”. G is J’s cousin, as verified by J’s mother. But there is a stamp-it note on his statement from Assistant Superintendent Patrik Williams indicating this fact. It is not known when Patrik Williams put this note on the statement, but I would assume it was after he received a letter from Gott informing him of the incident.
Gott: So as I, you know, as I was looking at the surveillance video prior to speaking to him, I see that there is three young men walking down the hallways. I see P walking sort of alongside of them. And something must have been said. Some kind of action must have been done… obviously, surveillance doesn’t have audio… because she abruptly turned around, and something was alarming her. She made a brief comment and within literally seconds she walked away.
DiRocco: Do you have the surveillance?
Gott: I do.
DiRocco: Do you want to play it?
Gott: I do, yes. (Playing video) So here are the three individuals up here. P is actually walking right here. And as she is walking by them, something was said by J here, because she abruptly turns around and addresses him. What, exactly, was said, obviously J will know exactly what was said. I, obviously, am just going by the witness statements, P, J, and the other ones that were standing by. And that was the end of it.
DiRocco: Okay. So J… what J told the administration at first was that he never saw her, is that right, during the day?
Camponelli: That is what he was telling me, yes, he has not had an interaction with her since home ec class.
DiRocco: So but in that video you do see an interaction between the students; is that right?
DiRocco: Okay. So and then can you see him on the video kind of laughing or smiling after he walked by? Is that what you saw in the video?
Gott: There is a expression of kind of a smirk on his face. I don’t know exactly what prompted it. And, again, I don’t know the comments, only based on what P and J and from what the witnesses said regarding the word terrorist.
DiRocco: So what did you conclude as a result of, you know, all the investigation that was done at the school?
Gott: I concluded that as the young lady is walking by, I concluded that Jordan intentionally did make a comment. I know in the statements regarding was it a mumble, it was a low volume. And I think his intention was to cause alarm in the young lady as she was walking by. In this case she turned around and addressed it. I don’t know if he expected that reaction, but that was the reaction that he had. Now, on, at the conclusion of the investigation, Mr. Camponelli did return to the school. I informed him that this is sort of the direction that we are going to head. And Mr. Camponelli actually contacted mom after the conclusion of this.
(submitting exhibits as evidence)
DiRocco: Exhibit 10, is that a copy of the referral related to the discipline for this incident in April of 2016?
Gott: Yes, ma’am.
DiRocco: Okay. So how was he disciplined at this time?
Gott: At this time he was disciplined… he was suspended out of school pending the results of a disciplinary hearing, as we are here today, also the results of a criminal investigation that he was ongoing at that point in time. So we placed him on homebound. Since it was May 9th, typically the consortium schools do not accept students after May 1, so we provided services for the remainder of the year on homebound services.
If you ever wanted proof positive that some schools in Delaware do not follow the law with discipline reporting, this is a classic example. Under Delaware state code, ALL schools MUST submit the behavior incident on e-school within 5 days (not business days) of the incident. In this case, no matter what the school said about the timeline, they broke the law. There are no exceptions or loopholes to this law. It is within 5 days. Period! In the below picture, it shows the incident date/time. However, it does not say when it was submitted. Since the investigation of the incident did not conclude until May 9th, it would have been impossible for Gott or Camponelli to put this in e-school prior to that date. Especially since it has a consequence on it. Or did they submit it on e-school before the investigation was even completed to make the timeline as dictated by state code? Either way, they did not follow the law.
(submitting exhibit as evidence)
DiRocco: And did you make a recommendation to the Assistant Superintendent concerning what should happen with his discipline going forward?
DiRocco: And what was that recommendation?
Gott: The recommendation was that J would be expelled for a period of 1800 days with educational services provided by Parkway Academy Central. And that’s based on the code of conduct violations of inappropriate behavior, C code 1501, hate crimes, and also the criminal charges of a felony charge hate crime and also harassment charges of insulting, taunting, challenging another, alarming or distressing conduct.
DiRocco: Okay. And this was a letter that was sent to Mr. Williams?
Gott: Yes ma’am.
(submitting exhibit as evidence)
DiRocco: I’m finished with Mr. Gott. Do you have questions Ms. J’s mother?
Powell: Ms. J’s mother?
J’s mother: Only that when you made me aware of the incident in home ec, I never heard of any previous anything. And I didn’t ever hear about the Muslim girl. It was just strictly smelling bombs, like somebody is making bombs or gun powder, that type of thing. I’m just kind of wondering how it became about P. Because you had said that J had pointed at her, and that’s what the report said. An it says on here that M said that you were pointing… he was… which I was told that M also said that J was pointing at him. So I’m just confused on how that all got changed and how it became about P.
DiRocco: Is there a document you are looking for?
Gott: There we go. So I’m unsure of the question.
J’s mother: Okay. Well, when I had talked to you about…
Gott: Yeah, yeah.
J’s mother: … the incident…
J’s mother: … there was nothing ever brought up to me until the school that day about it hurting… it being about P. I knew there was concern about what if she would have heard, it could have hurt her feelings. But it seems as though it all got turned around from talking about smelling gunpowder and bombs. And, like I said, they had already been evacuated once because of a bomb threat in the school. So, to me, I don’t find it strange that students… not that it’s a good thing… should be talking about these things. But I am just… I don’t understand when and where it became about P. I’m confused about that.
Gott: We talked about that. We talked about the guns. You know, we talked about the inappropriateness of talking about weapons in school. We talked about bombs. And the New York piece came up because I think during that time I think there was multiple bomb threats in New York City and also terrorists…
J’s mother: There was multiple bomb threats going through the School District.
Gott: It shouldn’t be mentioned. We shouldn’t be talking about it. That’s the point I was driving home. Please don’t talk about it in school. The third was the pointing of the young lady in the class saying, “I smell a terrorist.”
J’s mother: Okay. But that’s not a fact, because I also talked to M’s grandmother. And J was pointing at M, not the… not P.
Gott: But I was going specifically by the adults in the room that were reporting he was pointing at the young lady sitting over by the fridge.
J’s mother: Do you think there could have… the way the teachers, the paraprofessional, maybe she could have seen it wrong? I mean, that’s possible; correct? Because he says that… and he never mentioned anything about a refrigerator, either. I just… I was just wondering on how it became about P. Because, yeah, J, he doesn’t care about P or her religion. I’m just wondering how it became about it. And it sound like you were questioning her like something happened to her. And at that point nothing was about her. It’s you guys that made it about her, not J. So that’s, I guess, my question. So I guess I got an answer. But that’s all I have.
DiRocco: Okay. I would like to call Pat Williams as the next witness.
To be continued in Part 5: the testimony of Assistant Superintendent Patrik Williams and J!
My take on this part of the series: Once again, I don’t care if someone is out on medical leave, if you have more than one administrator who can handle student discipline issues, you make sure it gets done. You don’t wait two weeks. Camponelli testified he is one of the associate principals, so at least one other one or Gott could have picked up the reins on this and assured it was done in a timely manner. The fact they didn’t get a witness statement until May 4th speaks to the volumes of incompetence at play here. The number of times Camponelli says the word “obviously” is alarming. I don’t think Camponelli can speak for the witnesses and their frame of mind. If that were in a court of law, there would have been an objection after every single time he said that. DiRocco knew that, but since she was an attorney for the district, she didn’t care. Once again, I’m not an attorney, but even I know that! The part about the cousin will play a bigger role in Part 5. Assistant Superintendent Patrik Williams (now Superintendent) plays a major role from here on out so I would suggest you buckle your seatbelt and get ready for the ride!
Once again, if you are just beginning this series now, please go to the below links: