MAYS LANDING — A former Linwood teacher was found not guilty of simple assault on a student Friday afternoon, overturning a conviction that came with the forfeiture of her teaching license.
Kimberley Peschi, 42, of Galloway Township, was found guilty last year of kicking a chair as a sixth-grade Belhaven Middle School student leaned back in it, causing him to fall and hit his head in February 2017. Superior Court Judge John Rauh overturned that conviction, finding her not guilty and taking forfeiture off the table.
Peschi, who remained quiet throughout Rauh’s decision, declined to comment after leaving the courtroom in dark sunglasses.
Her lawyer, Robert Agre, said Peschi was “greatly relieved,” adding it’s been a stressful time for her. Because she was found not guilty, the state cannot appeal it, he said.
Michele Tourigian, the mother of the now eighth-grader, said she was “disgusted and hurt” by Rauh’s decision.
“I don’t understand what happened,” she said before walking down the hallway outside the courtroom with her arm around her son. “The video does not lie. She assaulted my son.”
In his decision, Rauh said the surveillance footage of the incident, which is less than 20 seconds with the portion of contact only an instant, is grainy and there’s a blur. Peschi’s testimony that she was trying to right the chair was “plausible,” he said.
“Given the brief period of the time the whole incident took place, I am not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted purposely, knowingly or recklessly with regard to the injury to the child,” he said. “She certainly intended to put her foot on that chair, but the state of mind has to go to the injury to the child.”
Peschi, who currently works as a real estate agent, was suspended after the incident, and the charges were pursued by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office but heard before a Northfield municipal judge in a trial that began in December 2017.
She was making $80,723 per year as a teacher, public salary data show.
Municipal Judge Timothy P. Maguire found Peschi guilty of simple assault in May 2018 and ordered her to pay about $200 in fines and court fees. Then, in September, Municipal Judge Louis Belasco decided Peschi must forfeit her public employment, saying she “went well beyond corrective behavior.”