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Woodland Hills behavior specialist to fight charge he assaulted student

| Friday, May 19, 2017, 12:30 p.m.

An attorney for a suspended Rankin Promise School employee accused of grabbing a 13-year-old student by the neck in an incident caught on camera said Friday that he plans to take the case to trial.

“If you look at the video, he is not choking him,” said attorney Patrick Thomassey, who represents Joseph Golden III “He puts his hand under the kid's chin and carries him. This 13-year-old was not hurt. He told everyone he was not hurt.”

Police and prosecutors view the video differently.

Golden, 50, of Verona is charged with simple assault and endangering the welfare of children in connection with the April 12 incident. Surveillance video of the incident was played Thursday during a preliminary hearing in West Mifflin, where he was held over from district court for trial.

Thomassey said the student was unruly, leaving class and then swore at Golden.

Golden also works as a behavior specialist for Rankin Promise, which is part of Woodland Hills School District. His job was to work with students in an alternative education program, which, by definition, includes students who have exhibited behavior problems, Woodland Hills Superintendent Alan Johnson said.

Johnson said the district immediately reported the incident to Rankin police on April 12. Golden was suspended the day of the incident and the district is moving to fire him, Johnson said.

A ChildLine referral on May 4 brought the incident to the attention of authorities, police said. Police reviewed video footage, conducted interviews and consulted with the District Attorney's Office.

“It was unacceptable and the employee is gone... was gone the same day,” Johnson said in an email this week.

“People of my generation think what is going on is ridiculous,” Thomassey said. “The students run the school. They can say and do whatever they want to do. There's no discipline.”

Golden remains free on bond as he awaits trial.

The Woodland Hills district made national headlines this month when a Pittsburgh attorney released videos from Woodland Hills High School surveillance cameras that showed the arrests of two black students by a white Churchill police officer assigned to the school.

In a video from April 3, Churchill officer Steve Shaulis, a school resource officer, can be seen dragging Que'chawn Wade, 14, into the school's main office lobby before fighting with him off camera and knocking out one of the teen's teeth, attorney Todd Hollis said. Wade faces a resisting arrest charge in juvenile court.

Video from a March 2015 incident shows Shaulis putting Ahmad Williams Jr., then 15, in a headlock, slamming him to the ground and shocking him twice with a Taser. Principal Kevin Murray is shown in the footage helping to hold the teen down during the arrest for disorderly conduct. A judge acquitted Williams of resisting arrest after the tape was played at trial.

In a separate incident, administrators placed Murray on leave Nov. 30 after an audio tape surfaced of him threatening a special education student. Murray did not report to the school for about six weeks while the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office investigated. In a letter to school officials, Zappala called Murray's actions “inappropriate and arguably threatening,” but he did not recommend criminal charges against Murray.

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

An attorney for a suspended Rankin Promise School employee accused of grabbing a 13-year-old student by the neck in an incident caught on camera said Friday he plans to take the case to trial.
Joseph Golden III
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