A former Mokoia Intermediate School teacher aide and kaumātua has been convicted and fined for punching a student while leading a class discussion about bullying.
John Tahuriorangi, 63, was sentenced in the Rotorua District Court yesterday on a charge of assault on a child after pleading guilty in May.
He was convicted and ordered to pay the victim $500 – a sentence described as a “slap on the hand” by the victim‘s mother.
The summary of facts said that on June 19, 2017, Tahuriorangi and a teacher were talking to a class of children, including the 11-year-old victim, about inappropriate behaviour in the previous class.
Tahuriorangi asked the victim and his friends what they would do if they were getting bullied.
“The victim replied that he would smash them. This infuriated the defendant [Tahuriorangi] who began calling the victim and his friends ‘f******‘ and ‘pooftas‘.
“The defendant walked over to the victim and using his clenched right fist punched him in the head near the temple.”
Judge Phillip Cooper said Tahuriorangi had first appeared before the court on the charge in November 2017 and pleaded not guilty. He changed his plea to guilty on May 23.
“It‘s your right to plead not guilty … but there was an overwhelmingly strong case against you.
“It has dragged this case out for a very long time, much to the distress of the family of the complainant.”
Judge Cooper said Tahuriorangi was a trusted member of the staff at the school.
“You were there to provide mentoring and advice. It wasn‘t your role to be involved in the discipline of children in any way.
“The victim impact report shows the obvious distress and emotional impact on the young boy and his whānau as a whole. They are really very upset with you and they‘d like to see you go to jail for what you‘ve done.”
The judge said Tahuriorangi‘s behaviour was out of character.
Tahuriorangi‘s lawyer, Louis Te Kani, told the court his client was no longer employed by the school.
The principal who was at the school when the incident happened has since retired but Te Kani provided a letter of support from her.
“The letter is a very positive one that speaks very highly of Mr Tahuriorangi. He has no history of anything like assaulting other children. This is a one-off incident.”
Before the sentence was handed down Tahuriorangi spoke from the dock. He said he had visited the family and the boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, after the charge was entered.
“I didn‘t touch him,” Tahuriorangi said.
But Judge Cooper said he had pleaded guilty to the charge. “I will not hear any submissions that run counter to that plea.”
Cooper handed down his sentence and Tahuriorangi said: “I want to take this further … I want the truth”.
The victim‘s family was in the public gallery and called out to Tahuriorangi, telling him to stop speaking.
The victim‘s mother later told the Rotorua Daily Post she felt like Tahuriorangi had simply got a “slap on the hand”.
“It‘s been a nightmare for us,” she said. “[My son] was happy-go-lucky and now he‘s withdrawn. I had to pull him out of that school.”
She said the $500 reparation was “an insult”.
The chairwoman of the Mokoia Intermediate Board of Trustees, Julie Wenham, confirmed Tahuriorangi was no longer employed by the school.
“We take the health, safety and wellbeing of our students very seriously and have high expectations for all our staff. As soon as the Board of Trustees found out about the incident we ed Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Education.”
The ministry‘s deputy secretary sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said the ministry was told about the incident by the New Zealand School Trustees Association which was already working with the school.
“We maintained with the relevant agencies who were supporting the school and student.
“When we are advised of an assault at a school we work with the school to identify the severity of the event, advise on their response, and whether or not further action is needed.
“Most often schools have good procedures in place and treat physical assaults very seriously.”