A former Montgomery County first-grade teacher who was accused this year of choking, punching and kicking students was acquitted of all misdemeanor assault charges Friday in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
A jury found Susan Lee Burke, 36, not guilty of at least seven counts of second-degree assault. In January, Burke was placed on administrative leave from Greencastle Elementary School in Silver Spring after school officials learned of students’ allegations.
“Justice was served from the verdict,” Todd Mohink, Burke’s attorney, said Friday. He said Burke categorically denies that she ever choked a child.
“We respect the verdict of the jury,” said Seth Zucker, a spokesman for Montgomery State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
But Burke, of Laurel, faces additional legal action: She had also been indicted on two felony counts of second-degree child abuse stemming from the same investigation.
Mohink said that Burke will “defend herself as is appropriate” against those charges.
It is uncommon for teachers to be charged criminally over actions in their classrooms, particularly physical encounters with children.
The alleged incidents occurred in December, police have said. In January, students told school officials about them, and a 7-year-old boy approached police. Detectives interviewed all of the students in Burke’s class, and eight told them that they and a possible ninth person were assaulted, police have said.
“All of the victims described being choked by the suspect,” detectives wrote in court papers. “Some of the students, in addition to being choked, stated they were kicked, punched, scratched or had their arms squeezed tightly by Susan Burke.”
Several of the children, their parents and school officials testified, according to court records. The children testified that Burke hurt them when she was angry, according to the Associated Press. But the defense found several inconsistencies in their statements, according to multiple news reports.
According to the Gazette Newspapers, Burke testified that she kept an orderly classroom and had a punishment system that included issuing verbal warnings, making students draw pictures or write essays, and restricting classroom privileges. In some situations, she added, she would lightly touch a student on the back, according to the Gazette.
Two school workers testified on behalf of Burke, Mohink confirmed.
Burke was hired by the Montgomery school system in 2001. She taught at Meadow Hall Elementary School in Rockville for eight years before making a volunteer transfer in 2009 to Greencastle.
Burke no longer works for the school system, schools spokesman Dana Tofig said.
Mohink said that Burke was “very satisfied” with the verdict. But, he added, “her life is basically on pause at this time until those other two counts are adjudicated or resolved.”
Staff writer Dan Morse contributed to this report.