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Teacher not guilty in assaults of students

July 30, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN -- A longtime teacher at Washington County Technical High School was found not guilty Thursday of two charges of second-degree assault stemming from allegations he struck two students at the school in January.

Saying at one point he was baffled over the allegations and there was a "lot of smoke" in the case, Washington County District Judge Mark D. Thomas found Gerald Franklin Spickler, 50, of Hagerstown, not guilty of the two charges following a bench trial Thursday afternoon in district court.

The first person to testify in the case was Josh Appenzellar, 18, who claimed he was punched in the nose by Spickler, who is on administrative leave.

Appenzellar said Spickler punched him after he and fellow student Robert Bowers went to Spickler's class on Jan. 7 to get a key from Spickler, an automobile repair teacher who has worked at the school for 15 years.

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Appenzellar said there had been no problems between him and Spickler before Spickler struck him.

Bowers, 17, testified Spickler was involved in putting him in a sink in the class. Bowers also testified Spickler used the back of his hand to hit him in the crotch.

There was testimony that Spickler's class sometimes has a playful atmosphere, and Bowers said he first thought it was a joke when he was put in the sink.

"Not when he hit me in the crotch," Bowers said.

Ryan Roland, 17, said he remembered the incident between Spickler and Appenzellar.

When Appenzellar went to Spickler's class, a door opened and Spickler's fist came through and struck Appenzellar, Roland said.

Ben Nicolao, 18, said he approached Spickler on the same day and asked Spickler about bringing a friend's car to the school to work on.

Nicolao said Spickler, who had his back turned to Nicolao, struck him in the eye with a closed hand.

When asked to describe the hit, Nicolao said "it was a pretty firm hit."

Curtis Smith, another Washington County Technical High School student who since has graduated, said he saw the exchange between Spickler and Nicolao.

Smith described the incident as an "accident."

Spickler took the stand to describe the incidents involving Appenzellar and Nicolao.

Spickler told police previously he was "carrying on" when he struck Appenzellar. On Thursday, Spickler said he didn't mean to do it.

"It surprised me and it surprised him," Spickler said.

Spickler said the incident with Nicolao occurred while he was motioning toward a car with his arm.

Spickler's attorney, Thomas C. Morrow, said the allegations did not make sense, especially in light of Spickler's 15 years of teaching at the school.

Morrow said Spickler would have been wishing for an "employment death wish" to carry out such actions.

The charges against Spickler stemmed from the incidents involving Appenzellar and Nicolao.

In his decision to clear Spickler of the charges, Thomas commented none of the victims said "ouch" and there wasn't any blood shed in the incidents.

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