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Attorney cites conflict in teacher case

By MAX FILBY
STAFF WRITER

The Nelson family’s attorney is alleging a conflict of interest in the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office investigation of an incident involving their son and Riverdale kindergarten teacher Barb Williams.

Williams’ husband, Jim Williams, is a chaplain for the sheriff’s office, and Cleveland attorney Dan Margolis said he thinks it’s why more charges weren’t brought against his wife.

Williams was charged on Friday with child endangerment, a first-degree misdemeanor, after being caught on camera shoving 6-year-old Ian Nelson and picking him up by his shirt and face. On Tuesday, Margolis said the family also wanted felony charges of child endangerment and assault, child abduction and aggravated menacing charges brought against Williams.

“They’re outraged,” Margolis said about the family. “It looks like preferential treatment.”

Sheriff Michael Heldman dismissed the claims against his office, saying the accusation had “no bearing.”

“Jim Williams doesn’t even really know the deputy who handled the investigation,” Heldman said.

Williams has been a volunteer with the sheriff’s office for the past few years and typically helps in the jail, Heldman said. Jim Williams is also a pastor at Mount Blanchard Church of the Nazarene and a member of the county’s stress management team that assists firefighters and law enforcement officials.

The connection of Williams’s husband to the sheriff’s office is a detail that should have been brought up before a grand jury, Margolis said.

“Just because he doesn’t work with that deputy doesn’t mean there’s no conflict. He still works there,” Margolis said. “To say that the deputies wouldn’t look at him as one of their own is ridiculous.”

Margolis said there should be more scrutiny given to the conflict of interest allegation, especially considering the family’s disappointment with the charge that was filed.

“I think that people should be very concerned with how this case is being handled,” he said.

The decision to charge Williams with a first-degree misdemeanor of child endangerment came after an extensive review of the evidence, Alan Hackenberg, assistant city law director, said earlier this week.

Hackenberg said he does not have the ability to file felony charges.

“I want people to be aware that this is the most serious charge that can be brought,” Hackenberg said.
Hackenberg said his office decided not to pursue further charges of assault or aggravated menacing because the evidence available made the child endangerment charge seem “more appropriate.”

Earlier this week, Riverdale Superintendent Eric Hoffman declined to comment on the charge, and Jay Feldstein, an attorney for Williams said he would respond to them in the courtroom.

The child endangerment charge carries a maximum jail sentence of 180 days and a maximum fine of $1,000 for a first-degree misdemeanor, according to state law.

The Ohio Department of Education refers to an act of child endangerment as an “unemployable offense” for a teacher. The department of education is not allowed to confirm whether it is investigating Williams, John Charlton, associate director for media relations, said Tuesday.

The state could suspend the teaching license or permanently revoke it, Charlton said.

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