Freshwater: Dumpster diving for docs?

| 38 Comments

A strange story is circulating in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. According to the story, John Freshwater, currently the subject of an administrative hearing on his termination as a middle school science teacher, received a call from an unnamed person on Thursday, Feb 4. The caller purportedly told Freshwater that the school had discarded some documents in a dumpster at the high school and that the documents contained information that would exonerate him. Sometime during the night of the 4th or morning of the 5th, Freshwater, his lawyer R. Kelly Hamilton, and his pastor Don Matolyak are said to have gone through one or more school dumpsters, removing some documents and taking them to Matolyak’s church, Trinity Assembly of God, to go through them.

The story goes on to say that the three then called the Mt. Vernon Police Department which responded to the church and took custody of the documents. Two sources I am not permitted to name have told a trusted friend (and one source told me) that a police report on the incident has been written but is not yet publicly available because it has not been approved by a supervisor. When asked directly about it, the police department would not comment.

This strikes me as unbelievable in at least one important respect. My wife has taught in the Mt. Vernon City School District for more than 30 years and I am fairly familiar with their records disposal policies. With new privacy regulations covering a wide range of personnel matters from evaluations to medical history to student records, sensitive documents are not casually discarded in dumpsters, they’re shredded. The schools are equipped with shredders and they’re used. I simply cannot believe that an administrator would be stupid enough to casually toss unshredded documents relevant to Freshwater’s case into a dumpster. If in fact Freshwater, Hamilton, and Matolyak had possession of documents from the school that bear on Freshwater’s case, I strongly doubt that they came from a dumpster. I hope the cops are investigating other potential sources.

A couple of speculative implications of the story are also circulating. One is that Freshwater and his attorney are pushing for a criminal investigation of the school district for withholding or destroying evidence important to the administrative hearing and/or the two federal suits. Another speculation is that this is yet another delaying tactic by Freshwater and his advisers that is designed to increase pressure on the Board of Education to settle with Freshwater on his terms. A third, held mainly by local conspiracy theorists, is that the story is true and the district was in fact concealing evidence. Of course, those are not mutually exclusive. I’ve so far found no evidence indicating whether those or any other hypothesis has any support.

If true, this story pushes the Freshwater saga past merely strange into bizarre territory. I say again that there is no official confirmation of the story, but even the fact that it is circulating and is being taken seriously speaks to the mood of this badly divided community. That’s the true tragedy of this whole affair.

38 Comments

Another option is that one of the “friends of Freshwater” seeded the dumpster(s) with incriminating evidence put on stolen school stationary, then proceeded to make sure the documents were “discovered”.

This normally would be considered illegal, and immoral, BUT, when you are Working For Jesus, it then becomes perfectly ok to break the law. Sort of like Dr. Tiller’s killer, and the 8 years of the Bush era.

Yeah, I thought of that but didn’t include it. It’s all speculative at this stage.

Another thought just struck me. Since the purported documents would be relevant to the federal suits and discovery in both of them is already under way, concealment or destruction of them would be a federal crime. I wonder when the FBI will be visiting us.

Hm. And faking them would also be a federal crime. :)

“Another option is that one of the “friends of Freshwater” seeded the dumpster(s) with incriminating evidence put on stolen school stationary, then proceeded to make sure the documents were “discovered”.”

Or they may simply have been ‘liberated’ from the school’s files by the same vigilante who called to report them in the dumpster. This way, the vigilante would not have to explain his possession of stolen property should the trail be backtracked, plus it creates the impression that school officials were acting nefariously.

Gingerbaker said: Or they may simply have been ‘liberated’ from the school’s files by the same vigilante who called to report them in the dumpster. This way, the vigilante would not have to explain his possession of stolen property should the trail be backtracked, plus it creates the impression that school officials were acting nefariously.

That, of course, assumes that the documents (again, if they exist) are genuine. I have strong doubts about that.

It’s the timing that has me wondering…isn’t the hearing scheduled to resume on 2/11? Depending on the odds of the referee granting more delays, the delaying tactic option may have legs.

What sort of documents would exonerate Freshwater, exactly? As far as I can tell, there’s not a whole lot of dispute about the facts in this case; the dispute is mainly over whether Freshwater’s actions constitute a firing offense. What would documents contain, to indicate one way or another?

Sounds to me like more strategic obfuscation, to delay the decision, sow confusion, and add to the total cost. I have had the distinct impression that one of the lessons of this case is that trying to administer the school curricula according to the law is simply more expensive than the district can afford.

WOW!!! Just WOW. and WTH.

RBH is repeating unconfirmed hearsay rumors. So we don’t know what the actual facts are. Which means any comments will be speculative.

Which won’t stop anyone including me.

Guess 1. The whole story sounds made up. These days no one discards anything remotely important without shredding it or burning it. My old mail and bills all get destroyed at home for Cthulhu’s sake. So no one can get a credit card number and charge a trip to Nigeria on my accounts.

Guess 2. The fundie cultists planted some “evidence” of some sort, possibly forged, in the dumpster and then “found it”.

Guess 3. Maybe it is all true. This is unlikely but can’t be ruled out without knowing the real facts. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.

Forgery would not be a smart move. There are many ways of authenticating documents. Handwriting analysis is just one of many. Fingerprints on paper. DNA analysis; we can now detect traces of DNA in fingerprints by PCR. Paper and ink analysis. Ink dating.

These clowns may yet turn a civil matter into a criminal one and a prison sentence or two. The Dover school board creationists lied under oath and destroyed some relevant evidence. Perjury and obstruction of justice are felonies and are what nailed Martha Stewart and Bill Clinton. It isn’t the crime that gets these people, it is the cover up.

What could exonerate Freshwater? He burned the kid’s arm. That’s a fact and should have been grounds enough for dismissal. Freshwater admitted that and to my knowledge never even offered an apology.

Freshwater taught creationism in class. That’s been documented. Freshwater kept his personal bible on his desk even after he was requested to remove it by the administration. That’s been documented, too, and I recall that Freshwater even wrote a note saying he would not remove his bible. Fair enough, but hardly contested.

I can speculate as well as anybody but I can’t imagine what document from the high school dumpster, where Freshwater didn’t even teach, could “exonerate” him from the facts in this case.

Enlighten me!

received a call from an unnamed person on Thursday, Feb 4. The caller purportedly told Freshwater that the school had discarded some documents in a dumpster at the high school and that the documents contained information that would exonerate him.

This doesn’t sound credible. Who is this unnamed person and how did he know what was in the dumpster and when? ESP. God told him? Ask me what is in the dumpster at the coffeehouse down the road right now. I don’t know and don’t care. Probably old coffee grounds and packaging materials.

There is a huge amount of evidence that wasn’t found in a dumpster and is definitely real. Kids with crosses burned into their skin. The Tesla coil device. Documents already entered into the record. Eyewitness testimony from numerous sources. Freshwater’s history of being a creationist religious kook.

flint:

What sort of documents would exonerate Freshwater, exactly?

Really. For sure.

I also wonder how many people have gotten hate mail, insults, threats and death threats. That is a common tactic of creationists. It always happens. It happened at Dover a lot. It happens to me a lot. It happens to many people I know. FWIW, RBH or someone mentioned that the Dennis family has already had to move out of the district.

Maybe they are just trying to muddy the waters, delay, and threaten the school district. Joseph McCarthy had a list of commies in the federal government. He lost when challenged to actually produce his list. It didn’t exist.

“What sort of documents would exonerate Freshwater, exactly? As far as I can tell, there’s not a whole lot of dispute about the facts in this case; the dispute is mainly over whether Freshwater’s actions constitute a firing offense. What would documents contain, to indicate one way or another?”

I’m sure RBH can address this with infinitely more insight than can I, but I am thinking that perhaps they found something which would indicate a pattern of the administration allowing the introduction of religious material into the classroom by other teachers, or of Freshwater himself.

If he can show that his actions were equivalent to approved actions by other teachers, then he could successfully argue discrimination. It may be that all he needs to show is that the administration’s policies have simply been incoherent, and he can’t be blamed their failures.

This always seemed to me, at least, to be his best strategy and there does seem to be a dispute over some facts about what was and was not allowed in his classroom over the years. Perhaps they have found something on the subject which contradicts testimony already given by the school district.

Deliberately concealing evidence in violation of a subpoena and then just throwing it un-shredded into a dumpster? Yeah, like that’s really believable …

Whatever the tactic Freshwater and his lawyer are using, it illustrates the nightmare that allowing sectarian science into the classroom produces.

ID/creationists will filibuster, sandbag, mislead, misrepresent, and do everything possible to make a public scene when they get caught slipping their dogma into public education.

And all the while they will be screaming to their base that they are being persecuted, that they are heroically defending themselves from the satanic forces that run the schools and whipping up their political base for the onset of Armageddon.

Never once will they admit that they started the war.

Gingerbaker said:

“What sort of documents would exonerate Freshwater, exactly? As far as I can tell, there’s not a whole lot of dispute about the facts in this case; the dispute is mainly over whether Freshwater’s actions constitute a firing offense. What would documents contain, to indicate one way or another?”

I’m sure RBH can address this with infinitely more insight than can I, but I am thinking that perhaps they found something which would indicate a pattern of the administration allowing the introduction of religious material into the classroom by other teachers, or of Freshwater himself.

If he can show that his actions were equivalent to approved actions by other teachers, then he could successfully argue discrimination. It may be that all he needs to show is that the administration’s policies have simply been incoherent, and he can’t be blamed their failures.

This always seemed to me, at least, to be his best strategy and there does seem to be a dispute over some facts about what was and was not allowed in his classroom over the years. Perhaps they have found something on the subject which contradicts testimony already given by the school district.

That other teachers have done (been permitted to do?) many of the same things on which Freshwater’s termination resolution is based has been part of his case from very early on. Whether the supposed documents confirm that is almost irrelevant, since there’s been testimony to that effect from, among others, Lori Miller.

A second line of defense on Freshwater’s part, mostly in public comments on radio interviews and the like, is that there has been a conspiracy against Freshwater dating back to his “critical analysis of evolution” proposal in 2003. Perhaps the documents are supposed to establish that there was such a conspiracy. It’ll be interesting, since there is only one Board member and one senior administrator involved in the current affair who were in office in 2003, Dr. Margie Bennett, current President of the Board and an administrator at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, and Dr. Lynda Weston, retired Director of Teaching and Learning. They are the only two individuals who could have carried any such conspiracy to fruition in 2007-8.

Another consideration is whether this is designed to bring pressure on the Board to settle. If a police report has in fact been filed, as two sources have confirmed, then it cannot easily be turned off by a settlement. While this is a small community and I can envision the cops wanting to turn a blind eye to the report, given the publicity I strongly doubt they’d risk that at this stage. And if it is alleged that the supposedly discarded documents are relevant to the process of discovery in the two federal suits then it’s way past a settlement: It’s federal crime territory. Someone – I do not speculate about who – is going to get burned real bad over this.

Flint said:

What sort of documents would exonerate Freshwater, exactly? As far as I can tell, there’s not a whole lot of dispute about the facts in this case; the dispute is mainly over whether Freshwater’s actions constitute a firing offense. What would documents contain, to indicate one way or another?

Why, obviously documents declaring that it is perfectly fine to teach religious dogma in public schools in violation of federal law, and brand minor children with the symbol of a death cult!

Seriously, it is a documented fact that he did these things! He’s even admitted it! Why has this nutcase not been arrested yet? He branded a child!

How could anything pulled from a dumpster (one that is publicly accessible if Freshwater and his lawyer could get at is) ever be admissible as evidence?

SpotWeld said:

How could anything pulled from a dumpster (one that is publicly accessible if Freshwater and his lawyer could get at is) ever be admissible as evidence?

The rules of evidence in the administrative hearing are mostly at the discretion of the referee, though he has followed (more or less) regular trial standards with a fair amount of added flexibility.

W. H. Heydt said:

It’s the timing that has me wondering…isn’t the hearing scheduled to resume on 2/11? Depending on the odds of the referee granting more delays, the delaying tactic option may have legs.

Yup, that’s what’s scheduled. I’d guess that whether it will in fact resume then is up for grabs now. Hamilton, Freshwater’s lawyer, has already established a pattern of “discovering” new evidence/witnesses/whatever that require a delay.

“He branded a child!”

Yes, this guy should have been fired years ago! But I think that calling this “branding,” and making it the firing offense is the wrong approach. It sounds like shrill over-reaction (sorry, Phantom).

I am NOT defending Freshwater, BUT, as I understand it, none of the marks he made were ever permanent (disappeared in a day or so), and would barely qualify as first-degree burns. The kids volunteered. Yes, peer pressure is always a problem with teenagers, but they were in no way forced to cooperate. And I may be wrong about this, but I haven’t heard that he had ever been told not to use the device on kids.

Yes, it was dumb to do anything that would leave a mark that could be considered an injury, however slight, and it was way past stupid to make it a cross. Yes, fire him; it’s clear that he has, for years, committed fire-able offenses, but “branding children” isn’t one of them.

An historical aside: Back in the early ’60s, in 9th grade science class, we were introduced to, presumably, the same device. It looked kind of like a fat sheep-shear, but with a blunt metal point. If I remember right, it made an ominous mad-scientist electric hum. Our teacher did several tricks with it, including having the class all hold hands in a chain and having the first student grab the metal probe (don’t remember if it was on or off to start). You never felt a thing until you let go and broke the chain, then the two who broke felt a shock. He also asked if anyone wanted to feel it firsthand, and several volunteered (to earn macho points, I guess). But I know the teacher knew he’d gone too far when he got one tough dude to ground himself on the lab faucet, then zapped him on the head! Nearly knocked the guy over. Except for the head zap, I got the impression that this was pretty much a standard demo about electricity (voltage vs. amperage, etc.) in those days. I know the teacher had used the zapper for years and it was one of the exciting things kids looked forward to, maybe with some trepidation, in his class.

Fire Freshwater Fast–but not for “branding” (unless he had been specifically told not to do it). I’m reminded of a line from an old movie: “Branding? That’s not branding. I’LL show you BRANDING!

I’ve recalled some testimony from Hamilton’s recross of Freshwater on Dec 30:

Hamilton asked if some things had been presented in the hearing that indicated someone looked through his room, and Freshwater agreed that was the case. Hamilton asked what happened to Freshwater’s teacher’s version of the text and his lesson plans. Freshwater said the district has them as far as he knows. Hamilton asked if those texts and lesson plans would provide exculpatory evidence for him. He replied they would.

I wonder if there’s a connection between that testimony and this incident.

Just Bob wrote

I am NOT defending Freshwater, BUT, as I understand it, none of the marks he made were ever permanent (disappeared in a day or so), and would barely qualify as first-degree burns.

An expert witness, a physician, tentatively identified the marks (from a photograph) as being consistent with a second degree burn. Other testimony and a deposition in one of the federal suits have established that the marks lasted on the order of one or two weeks.

One is that Freshwater and his attorney are pushing for a criminal investigation of the school district for withholding or destroying evidence important to the administrative hearing and/or the two federal suits.

Filing a false report alleging a crime took place is itself a criminal offense.

The cops and judges really hate that. It makes their job much harder. They can and often do prosecute this one.

Freshwater and his lawyers better be sure of their facts. Or someone may end up behind bars.

The first rule of anything is well known. When you find yourself in a hole, first, STOP DIGGING. Looks to me like they are still digging.

And BTW, these rumors could just be rumors. Fundies spend much of their time spreading rumors. They go in and out of fashion but for a while, missing children were being found drained of blood after being used by satanists in their rituals. The FBI investigated these rumors for years and never found a single verifiable real case.

Here’s another possibility: Freshwater et al. never visited the dumpster at all, but instead just stayed home and fabricated documents.

IANAL, but I think SpotWeld’s comment is relevant to the pending federal cases and any attempt by Freshwater or his attorney to file criminal charges. If the account of the rumor is accurate the moment that they obtained the documents they became tainted. While these purported documents may have bearing on the administrative hearing, they are worthless to Freshwater and his attorney for any other purpose except as a publicity stunt. Most of the other alternative scenarios will put Mr. Freshwater and his attorney in some very hot water.

Most of the other alternative scenarios will put Mr. Freshwater and his attorney in some very hot water.

Makes one wonder whether the docs were ‘planted’ by some nutjob creationist in the hope that the attorney in question would grasp at straws and attempt to use them. Creationists are under enough pressure, due to their ridiculous attempts to hang on to their outmoded model of history, that anything is possible and that no subterfuge is beyond them. Why can’t they just evolve into something rational?

Kev said:

…Creationists are under enough pressure, due to their ridiculous attempts to hang on to their outmoded model of history, that anything is possible and that no subterfuge is beyond them. Why can’t they just evolve into something rational?

Because they don’t believe in evolution, and they’re taught that rationality is the “pretty whore of the Devil”

Just Bob said:

“He branded a child!”

Yes, this guy should have been fired years ago! But I think that calling this “branding,” and making it the firing offense is the wrong approach. It sounds like shrill over-reaction (sorry, Phantom).

I am NOT defending Freshwater, BUT, as I understand it, none of the marks he made were ever permanent (disappeared in a day or so), and would barely qualify as first-degree burns. The kids volunteered. Yes, peer pressure is always a problem with teenagers, but they were in no way forced to cooperate. And I may be wrong about this, but I haven’t heard that he had ever been told not to use the device on kids.

Yes, it was dumb to do anything that would leave a mark that could be considered an injury, however slight, and it was way past stupid to make it a cross. Yes, fire him; it’s clear that he has, for years, committed fire-able offenses, but “branding children” isn’t one of them.

An historical aside: Back in the early ’60s, in 9th grade science class, we were introduced to, presumably, the same device. It looked kind of like a fat sheep-shear, but with a blunt metal point. If I remember right, it made an ominous mad-scientist electric hum. Our teacher did several tricks with it, including having the class all hold hands in a chain and having the first student grab the metal probe (don’t remember if it was on or off to start). You never felt a thing until you let go and broke the chain, then the two who broke felt a shock. He also asked if anyone wanted to feel it firsthand, and several volunteered (to earn macho points, I guess). But I know the teacher knew he’d gone too far when he got one tough dude to ground himself on the lab faucet, then zapped him on the head! Nearly knocked the guy over. Except for the head zap, I got the impression that this was pretty much a standard demo about electricity (voltage vs. amperage, etc.) in those days. I know the teacher had used the zapper for years and it was one of the exciting things kids looked forward to, maybe with some trepidation, in his class.

Fire Freshwater Fast–but not for “branding” (unless he had been specifically told not to do it). I’m reminded of a line from an old movie: “Branding? That’s not branding. I’LL show you BRANDING!

A lot of things that were commonplace in public schools in the 60s are not absolutely not tolerated today.

according to a couple (also unnamed) sources, someone sent a few pics, of boxes of things taken from Freshwater’s room (in one of the school board member’s office) was sent to Freshwater in early-mid Jan.

From my observations on the case, and experience as an educator, I would go with the idea that they are trying, point by point, to discredit each and every charge. His previous efforts involved portraying the victim as a liar, that the incident wasn’t as bad as claimed, that the arm wasn’t his, etc. In a sense, this was flinging crap against the wall in the hopes that something would stick. For some of the other charges they’ve done the same, discredit witnesses, sow kernels of doubt, etc.

IF this is a case of fraud, my guess is that the documents will likely make two claims. First that administration was aware of his antics and did nothing to correct his behavior, and second that other teachers were doing similar things that administration was aware of and didn’t respond. Depending on the state guidelines and any collective bargaining agreement that may exist within the district, school districts have to show an effort to improve/correct the behavior of a teacher pending termination. Of course in the situation where a student is harmed through their negligence a lot of this goes out the window, but if the defense can muddy that picture enough it becomes an argument that a “tenured” teacher is being wrongfully terminated and that the administration didn’t take the proper steps to improve their behavior prior to the final penalty being implemented. So, my guess would be they would try:

1) Minimizing the branding incident and trying to make it seem as if it was not only common in the district/department but also that administration was aware of the practice.

2) Try to show that administration didn’t follow policy, show that Freshwater was treated differently, show that administration was aware of his antics and approved of them, or any combination of the three.

I think we’ve seen ample evidence of both of these strategies so far. My guess is that if there actually are documents they will be used to try to support one or both strategies depending on what they actually contain.

Alex H said:

A lot of things that were commonplace in public schools in the 60s are not absolutely not tolerated today.

You’re absolutely right, and I couldn’t agree more. Such things shouldn’t have been done then, and shouldn’t be done now.

But I still think “branding” is too strong a term. And if he had been doing it for years, and, as I suspect, so had others in the district, and the administration knew about it, and no one ever told him to stop it–then all of a sudden calling it “branding,” like it’s some form of hideous disfiguring child abuse seems pretty overblown. To me, anyway.

I would find this all rather amusing except, as RBH has pointed out, someone could be in serious trouble. Freshwater was going to lose his job from the start. He screwed up in more ways than Archimedes invented.

This last move, if based on true events, seems fairly stupid. Since Freshwater’s supporters seem to have been generally stupid, I must suspect that they are up to some new stupidity.

Let’s see;

It is a winter Thursday night, sunset about 5:30 or so.

Somebody calls, and tells you that there are important documents in a school dumpster related to a law suit.

They don’t identify themselves, or the documents.

You rush out and do some dumpster diving (trespassing, and stealing) and THEN call the police?

HawHawHaw

How exactly does one introduce these “important” documents in court?

The short answer is that you don’t.

Side note: I remember in Advanced Biology in high school (BHS Berkeley Ca Alex Panasenko) we did an experiment with blood typing. We stabbed ourselves in the finger with tiny lancets. The lancets were wrapped for sterility and each student was the only one that could stab their own finger. We were also given a couple of alcohol swabs each for before and after the stab. We could opt not to take a sample of our own blood. I was generous and donated a drop or two to the squeamish. :D Side side note: A. Panasenkos Adv. Biology class was excellent. We learned a great deal about evolution. Most of what I learned is good enough for refuting the majority of creationist claims even 34 years later. -DU-

And if it is alleged that the supposedly discarded documents are relevant to the process of discovery in the two federal suits then it’s way past a settlement: It’s federal crime territory. Someone – I do not speculate about who – is going to get burned real bad over this.

The fairly consistent pattern among the really confirmed creationists is, they seem to feel that the law MUST support them, since they KNOW they are right. And desperate moves like this are just a way to show that they’re as right as they believe they are.

And this “I can’t possibly be wrong” conviction has led to consistently bad judgment every which way.

Notice

I’ve done something that’s rarely done on PT: I’ve deleted a comment that explicitly imputed a crime to principals in this affair. I’m advised by two legal scholars on the Panda’s Thumb list that it was legally problematic, and so I’ve deleted it.

I’ll ask commenters to be a little careful in their speculations about wrong-doing.

Thanks!

Assuming that the rumored events happened, I wonder if what was retrieved from the dumpster were shredded documents. These could be normal documents, that someone alleges contains exculpatory evidence, but because they are shredded noone knows. That would be enough to delay things further.

They may even be related to the case but only copies of material that has already been turned over.

But if they are genuine, the circus will only get bigger.

Doesn’t Freshwater have allies on the school board and within the school? Wouldn’t it be easy for one of these allies to create a document that seemed official and give it to him or his attorney? Wouldn’t claiming it was found in a dumpster be a convenient way to explain such a document’s provenance?

Ryan Cunningham said: Doesn’t Freshwater have allies on the school board and within the school?

Steve Thompson, new school board member, is a Freshwater fundraiser / sympthizer - see http://pandasthumb.org/archives/201[…]-day-13.html

Paul Burnett said:

Ryan Cunningham said: Doesn’t Freshwater have allies on the school board and within the school?

Steve Thompson, new school board member, is a Freshwater fundraiser / sympthizer - see http://pandasthumb.org/archives/201[…]-day-13.html

Oh, I’m not going to suggest anyone in particular is guilty of any specific malfeasance.

I’m going to close comments on this thread. This morning I received a copy of the police report on the incident and will be writing up another post reporting its contents that should be up in a few hours..

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on February 7, 2010 10:44 AM.

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