GATE CITY — A former Scott County special education teacher was found guilty Friday of abusing a mentally handicapped student during an incident that was recorded on a school security camera.
Heather Hogston Lambert, 37, was convicted of a single misdemeanor count of assault and battery during a bench trial held before Scott County Circuit Court Judge John Kilgore. The charge stemmed from a January 2013 incident at Shoemaker Elementary School involving a young mentally disabled student.
Scott County Commonwealth's Attorney Marcus McClung said the verdict showed that Lambert had overstepped her bounds as a teacher.
"The judge found, and we agree with the judge, that you have to give a lot of deference to teachers because they deal with situations where in some cases it's necessary to put their hands on a child," McClung said. "In this case, the child was happy, going to school and then she was confronted by this teacher and that all changed.
"We hate that with this conviction people will focus on it being a teacher, because there a lot of good ones out there. But this is not what good teachers do. Her actions were so beyond her scope of employment as a teacher that it was criminal, and the trial showed that."
Lambert faces a potential maximum sentence of 12 months incarceration and a possible fine not to exceed $2,500. She is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 29.
The status of her teaching license in Virginia was contingent on the outcome of the trial. It was not confirmed Friday if, or when, Lambert would have to forfeit her license due to the conviction.
She has not taught since April 2013, when the Scott County School Board accepted her resignation with immediate effect.
McClung said roughly 30 to 40 percent of the incident was recorded on a school security camera.
The video was shown by Assistant Scott County Commonwealth's Attorney Kim Mumpower during Friday's trial. Several Shoemaker teachers who witnessed the ordeal were also called by Mumpower to testify.
Prosecutors told the court that the girl was entering the school building and had just handed a teacher's aide a jacket when Lambert — after noticing the jacket on the ground — took the student in a headlock before grabbing her arm, forcing her back through the door and throwing her backpack.
Prosecutors said Lambert mistakenly thought the girl had thrown her jacket on the ground and then overreacted when punishing her.
The defense told the court that Lambert, who has a master's degree in special education, had adhered to her training and had acted within the scope of her job as a teacher.
McClung said evidence was also introduced showing Lambert had a history of mistreating students under her supervision.
"We were also able to introduce into evidence the fact that she had been reprimanded for that type of behavior before," McClung said. "She had also been told by letter from the school board and school administration not to lay her hands on students."
A prior incident involving Lambert and her treatment of a special education student was investigated in 2012 by a special prosecutor, although McClung said no charges were ultimately brought.
McClung said the mother of the child in the most recent case was pleased with the outcome of the trial.comments powered by Disqus