FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - A former Fulton County special education teacher accused of abusing several students wants a judge to toss the criminal charges against her and grant her immunity, claiming her disciplinary actions were done so in her capacity as a teacher.
Melanie Pickens faces 11 counts of abuse stemming from her time at Hopewell Middle School in Milton.
In court Friday, Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik watched as prosecutors questioned the Fulton County school’s physical therapist who oversaw the education plans for two of the boys, Alex Williams and Aaron Hatcher.
When asked whether screaming at students or leaving them alone in a bathroom for hours would be considered protocol for disciplining special needs students, Dr. Ramin Kazemi answered “no.”
Senior Assistant District Attorney Jay Hughes used a dummy to illustrate to Kazemi how investigators believe Pickens slammed Williams into lockers when he wouldn’t move fast enough for her liking.
“The educator’s knee goes into the student’s crotch and the educator’s arms are used to slam the student’s face into the wall or bank of lockers,” Hughes said as she pushed the dummy into a podium.
Kazemi testified that kind of action could harm a child.
“He didn’t have the balance to protect himself in something like if you were pushing him,” he testified. “You’d be putting him at risk for falls, it would probably be painful for him to have that.”
An attorney who represents families of three of the alleged victims said she’s outraged Pickens is taking this defense.
“It’s a waste of taxpayer money,” said Chris Vance. “It’s shameful.”
Vance said the parents of the boys want justice for the abuses they’ve suffered, and allowing Pickens to claim immunity would set a bad precedent.
“If a teacher can push children down, hit them on the head, call them foul names, lock them in rooms by themselves, and that be held to be good faith discipline, then no child would be protected in the state of Georgia,” she said.
Alex Williams’ mother, Lisa, said watching the prosecutor slam the dummy into the podium was tough.
“You can read it and it can be described by people in writing and on tapes we’ve listened to, but to see that and to envision that as my son was a whole different level,” she said.
Williams said she’s hopeful Judge Henry Newkirk will see through Pickens’ claims.
“I hope that the judge recognizes this isn’t discipline and that surely educators wouldn’t view this as discipline,” she said.
Neither Pickens nor her attorney, B.J. Bernstein, would comment after the hearing. Testimony continues Monday morning.