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District Attorney: No charges for Woodland Hills principal

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, 4:36 p.m.
Kevin Murray, as seen Dec. 6, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Kevin Murray, as seen Dec. 6, 2016.

Woodland Hills High School Principal Kevin Murray will not be charged criminally for his recorded verbal tirade involving a special-education student, the district's superintendent said Monday.

Superintendent Alan Johnson told the Tribune-Review he learned late Friday from Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office that its investigation into Murray was completed and no charges would be filed. Johnson said he now will finish an internal investigation and determine whether Murray will face district-imposed discipline.

"We had to wait until the district attorney was done," Johnson said. "The biggest thing now at the high school is the uncertainty. Big decisions have to be made, and people would like to know what is going on."

In a letter to Johnson, Zappala said the April 8 secret recording of Murray could not be used in criminal proceedings. However, he described Murray's actions as "inappropriate and arguably threatening."

"However, the Churchill police department relates no history or pattern of complaints against the principal by any Woodland Hills students or their parents," Zappala wrote in the letter dated Friday.

It's illegal in Pennsylvania to record someone without permission unless there is not an expectation of privacy.

In the recordings, which were captured in April but released in late November, Murray can be heard telling the 14-year-old student, "I'll punch you right in your face, dude," and "I'll knock your (expletive) teeth down your throat."

In another portion of the recording, Murray tells the teen he would prevail in court.

"When we go down to court, it's your word versus mine," Murray said in the recording. "And mine wins every time."

Threats recorded - (Explicit content)

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

The teen captured the recording on his cellular phone, Hollis said.

The district put Murray, also an assistant football coach, on administrative leave Nov. 30 after the recording surfaced.

"Apparently threatening language is only illegal in Allegheny County when it comes from a child to a teacher, not the other way around," Hollis said Monday in reaction to the DA's decision.

Murray's lawyer, Phillip DiLucente, applauded the district attorney's decision.

"I am happy with and agree with the decision of the district attorney's office in not prosecuting Mr. Murray," DiLucente said.

The teen already faces juvenile charges for allegedly violating Pennsylvania's wiretap law because of an unrelated recording authorities said he made in September during a meeting with school officials. A preliminary hearing on those charges in Allegheny County Juvenile Court was postponed Monday until Feb. 27.

The teen has not been charged for recording Murray, and Zappala's letter stated that he would not be.

"However, based on the student's attorney's representations, the student's record and your duties to the parents and students of the school district, I can relate that juvenile authorities will be provided the student's history to determine whether an alternative educational placement is in the best interest of the student," Zappala wrote.

During a Dec. 5 school board meeting, residents on both sides of the issue turned out. Some offered support for Murray, while others expressed outrage over the recording. Among those asking for the principal to get another chance was recently retired football coach George Novak.

DiLucente has said his client would consider "sensitivity training."

Johnson said he expects to issue a recommendation within days.

"We certainly need to get the issue resolved and get a principal back in place one way or the other," he said. "The D.A. being done does not mean the district does not have an obligation to conduct an investigation. I don't want people to jump to conclusions that the matter is all over with."

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

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