CORNER BROOK A junior high school teacher in Corner Brook who has pleaded guilty of assaulting his former spouse should not be in jeopardy of losing his job if sentencing recommendations heard in provincial court Friday are endorsed by the presiding judge.
The Crown and defence were actually quite far apart in their submissions on the sentence Brian David Penney should receive, but the Crown suggested any jail time can be served on weekends.
On Sept. 8, 2012, the 47-year-old teacher at Presentation Junior High School was involved in a domestic dispute with his former spouse at the house they once shared. They both still owned the house, but Penney was the one who continued to live there after the couple had separated.
The court heard that when his ex-wife came to his home that night, he wanted her to leave and used enough force to warrant an assault charge.
Penney pleaded guilty to the charge, but a special hearing had to be held this summer to settle disputed facts about what happened.
Judge Wayne Gorman ruled it was proven that Penney had grabbed her coat, pulled on it and had prevented his ex-wife from taking things from a shelf in their daughter's bedroom.
Gorman concluded Penney caused her to fall to the floor, pulled on her coat and shook her while she was down, attempted to strike her while she was on the floor and eventually removed her from the residence.
The woman suffered some minor bruising and scratches as a result of the assault.
In court Friday, Crown attorney Lori St. Croix asked Gorman to sentence Penney to 60-90 days in jail, but said it would be reasonable if he served that time intermittently. Serving out his sentence on weekends would permit Penney to retain his job, she told the court.
St. Croix told Gorman that the principal of Penney’s school was aware of the situation and Penney’s involvement with the court and has indicated Penney’s employment is not in jeopardy because of it. The Crown said the intermittent sentence option was reasonable and accommodates people who would lose their jobs if they had to serve straight time in prison.
Still, St. Croix said a non-custodial sentence would not be reasonable in this particular case. She said the court needs to send a message that it will protect women from domestic violence at the hands of spouses and former spouses.
In a victim impact statement, Penney’s ex-wife said she felt violated as a woman, a wife and a mother because of what happened. She also said she was fearful of Penney and “what he might do to me.”
The Crown also asked for an 18-month period of probation following the serving of the sentence in order to provide the victim with “some level of comfort” beyond his incarceration.
Robby Ash, who represented Penney in court Friday, asked for a conditional discharge and 12 months of probation. He said his client is a first-time offender who was going through a tumultuous and acrimonious separation when this incident happened.
Ash noted Penney realizes he has some issues to deal with and that he has already voluntarily commenced counselling to address those issues.
Penney, said Ash, has been a teacher for 22 years and has committed his life to bettering others. The lawyer also noted Penney has a supportive employment network,
Granting a conditional discharge, continued Ash, would keep Penney from having a criminal record. While he has no immediate intentions to leave his current job, Ash said a criminal record could hinder Penney’s employment options should he decide to or have to seek employment elsewhere in the future.
Should Gorman not agree with a conditional discharge, Ash urged the judge to allow Penney to serve his sentence under house arrest and not in an institution.
Before adjourning to consider his decision, Gorman gave Penney a chance to address the court. Penney apologized to his ex-wife and to his family, adding that his actions during this incident do not reflect the kind of person he really is.
Gorman, emphasizing how far apart the Crown and defence were on sentencing, will render his decision this Thursday.
The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said it was aware of this matter and has responded to it, but would not give any specific details on what action was taken involving Penney when asked last month.
In an emailed response to The Western Star, the school district said, if the district becomes aware of a charge against a teacher, it commences an investigation into the matter and advises the employee of such.
“As part of the investigation and, depending upon the nature of the allegation, representatives of the district may meet with the employee and others involved and may also review relevant materials and information,” wrote Ken Morrissey, the district’s director of communications. “Findings would be presented and the outcome of the investigation would be communicated and a letter placed in the employee’s file.”
The outcomes, added Morrissey, may range from no action being taken to recommending the employee avail of the Employee Assistance Program, suspension — with or without pay — or termination of employment.