Charges dismissed against Chesterfield band teacher

Posted at 12:36 PM, Feb 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-27 19:27:15-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - Charges have been dismissed against a Chesterfield middle school band teacher accused of assaulting a student.

Matoaca Middle School band instructor Michael Harrah was charged after a January incident in which he was accused of “inadvertently touching the boy in the face while trying to get him to pay attention.”

On the stand Wednesday, the 11-year-old told Judge Stewart Williams that Harrah slapped him across the face before telling him to "shut up" in class.

However, the sixth grader testified that he later told some students the incident never happened because he was embarrassed and wanted them to leave him alone.

Two of the victim's classmates, who appeared in court, described what happened as a pretend slap with a playful sound effect.

Others who testified on behalf of Harrah, called him a well respected and honest teacher.

In his defense, Harrah admitted he lightly grazed the boy's ear in a playful manner while trying to teach him a new instrument.

"I would not hit a student. I can understand how things could be interpreted," Harrah testified. "I'm very sorry he felt that way, that wasn't my intention.

Harrah told the judge, he was using a teaching exercise to help the student learn his music notes and pick up the pace, comparing it to a videogame.

Judge Williams suggested Harrah may have used the "wrong hook to engage the student,” but found no criminal intent.

As a result, the judge said he could not find any criminal assault in this case. The judge also advised Harrah to "find another hook to bring your kids in."

Chesterfield Schools spokesperson Shawn Smith told CBS 6 the district will work directly with Harrah to complete the administrative process to transition him back to classes.

Todd Stone, CBS 6 legal analyst, said this incident may not tarnish the teacher's reputation.

"In this case, since it was dismissed he has the option of having expunged from his record. And then, he would have a clean record," Stone said.

However, Stone said that it could take several months for that to happen.