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Former Cole Harbour teacher pleads guilty to assaulting student

Dartmouth provincial court.
Derek William Stephenson, 43, entered a guilty plea at Dartmouth provincial court on Wednesday in what was scheduled to be a three-day trial. - File
DARTMOUTH, N.S. —

A former Cole Harbour District High School teacher, who was videotaped in a classroom altercation with a student, pleaded guilty to assault.

Derek William Stephenson, 43, entered the guilty plea at Dartmouth provincial court on Wednesday in what was scheduled to be a three-day trial.  

Stephenson is also charged with mischief and breach of probation but, according to his lawyer Joel Pink, those charges are expected to be withdrawn or dismissed when he’s sentenced on Dec 2.

The October 2018 assault garnered public attention after a four-second video clip of the incident was widely shared on social media. 

Stephenson had the 15-year-old boy on the ground and in a choke hold briefly while kneeling behind the student. The student was not injured.

Pink said the cellphone video, which was taken by a student witness, had no bearing on his client’s decision to plead guilty. 

“It was based on the police investigation, statements of the witnesses I read and having discussed the matter with my client,” Pink said. “The video had nothing to do with us making the final determination.”

According to RCMP, the altercation happened after Stephenson removed ear buds from the student’s ears. The boy responded by removing the teacher’s lanyard that was attached to keys in his pants pocket. That’s when Stephenson pushed the boy into a wall and wrestled him to the ground.

Pink said a joint sentence recommendation would be submitted for next month’s hearing. Pink wouldn’t say what sentence he’s proposing but expected Stephenson wouldn’t be going to jail.

“Based on the recommendation that we hope to put before the court I do not expect so,” he said. "It will be before Chief Judge (Pamela) Williams who will be the sentencing judge, as to whether she accepts it or rejects it." 

Crown attorney Gayle Karding confirmed that she would not be seeking a jail sentence.

Stephenson pleaded guilty to threatening his ex-girlfriend in 2017 and assaulting his ex-wife in 2013. He received an absolute discharge in both cases. Stephenson’s latest case contributed to the province introducing a policy requiring criminal background checks for teachers.
 

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