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Woodland Hills principal seeks to calm outrage over threats

| Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, 11:33 a.m.

Woodland Hills High School Principal Kevin Murray would go through “sensitivity training” to resolve the controversy surrounding threats he is accused of making to a 14-year-old special education student, his attorney said Tuesday.

Murray spoke publicly for the first time about the threats, which were captured in an audio recording, but he referred most questions during a Downtown news conference to his attorney, Phillip DiLucente.

“If the Woodland Hills School District would recommend sensitivity training, whatever is going to be necessary I just want to make it known that my client is going to comply,” DiLucente said as he sat next to Murray at a conference table.

DiLucente urged people not to rush to judgment and, though he declined to elaborate, said the entire story about his client hasn't been told.

“There's been a lot of conjecture, and there's been a lot of misinformation,” he said. “There was no intent of Mr. Murray to hurt, scare or harass any child.”

Murray refused to answer questions from reporters, citing dual investigations by the school district and the office of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

“It's been, you know, a tough situation,” Murray said.

The teen's attorney, Todd Hollis, was unmoved.

“If it's tough for him, imagine the life of the child that he threatened and his family, ”he said. “His language and his actions are incomprehensible and unacceptable.”

The district put Murray, an assistant football coach, on administrative leave Wednesday after the recording surfaced. The teen is also under investigation for potentially illegally recording Murray.

In the recordings, which were made in April but released last week, Murray can be heard telling the teen, “I'll punch you right in your face, dude,” and “I'll knock your (expletive) teeth down your throat.”

The incident in question stemmed from a disciplinary meeting after the student called a teacher a derogatory name, according to Hollis.

DiLucente declined to explain the situation in detail but said it was natural for Murray “to defend his employee under the circumstances.”

“This is not typical behavior by my client whatsoever,” DiLucente said. “Anyone who knows him knows that. It was extraordinary circumstances considering previous acts that rose up to it.”

Hollis said school should not have an “us versus them mentality.”

“Defending an employee by threatening a child makes no sense,” he said. “You expect more from an administrator who is given the task of protecting our children when they are in his care. The audio from the principal undermines those expectations.”

DiLucente said Murray cares deeply about his students but also must play the role of a disciplinarian.

“Today's schools need discipline more than ever,” he said. “Now you can't touch children anymore, like our forefathers. But when certain accusations are made or certain statements are made to fellow employees, I do think there needs to be a level of discipline. What we're missing in today's school is respect a lot of times by young men and women that aren't giving it to people that are trying to teach them.”

DiLucente then referenced President-elect Donald Trump.

“We even have a president-elect that has made some statements at times that he has regretted,” he said.

Asked whether he was sorry for his language, DiLucente answered for Murray.

“Anytime there is profanity used as an educator they would be sorry for it,” he said.

The teen is facing a juvenile charge for allegedly violating Pennsylvania's wiretap law in connection with a separate, unrelated recording authorities said he made in September during a meeting with school officials, Hollis said. A hearing on that case is scheduled for Jan. 9 in Allegheny County Juvenile Court, Hollis said.

It's illegal in Pennsylvania to record someone secretly unless there is no expectation of privacy.

The student withdrew from the high school on Friday.

On Monday night, residents on both sides of the issued turned out to offer support for Murray or express outrage. Among those asking for the principal to get another chance was recently retired football coach George Novak.

“Our principal has an outstanding reputation with all the schools in the WPIAL,” Novak said Monday. “When we play, many school officials comment on how well-behaved our kids are. That all starts at the top.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Woodland Hills High School Principal Kevin Murray (left) listens to his attorney, Phillip DiLucente speak to the media at DiLucente's office downtown, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Woodland Hills High School Principal Kevin Murray listens to his attorney, Phillip DiLucente speak to the media at DiLucente's office downtown, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.
Ben Schmitt | Tribune-Review
Woodland Hills Principal Kevin Murray and his attorney Phil DiLucente held a brief news conference in DiLucente's office Downtown on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2016.
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