A New York school superintendent recently testified as a character witness for a neighbor who was convicted last year of fondling an 11-year-old boy.
Sweet Home schools superintendent Anthony Day testified at the sentencing hearing for Luiz Pereira in December to help his friend and neighbor avoid jail and defend his character. A jury convicted Pereira, a 54-year-old college administrator, of felony unlawful contact with a minor for touching an 11-year-old boy through his clothes at a home in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 2017, The Buffalo News reports.
Day told the court his family is friends with the Pereiras, with their kids regularly visiting each other’s homes, and described his reaction to the accusations.
“It would be completely out of character for him. When I heard it, my reaction was, ‘What?’” Day said.
Day told the Buffalo News he took the day off work to go to court as a private citizen, and was not representing the school district. He also discussed the move with the Sweet Home School Board beforehand.
“I did what I did because I thought it was morally and ethically the right thing to do, in order to support somebody that I felt needed support,” Day said. “There’s another Luiz Pereira that’s not being portrayed.”
Despite some backlash, school board members have stood firmly behind the superintendent. Six board members signed a statement to district parents and staff defending Day’s testimony, including some who also knew Pereiras personally.
“I fall in the same boat as Tony does,” school board vice president Scott Johnson said, referring to the superintendent. “Knowing the way I know him, and just in how he worked with kids and the stuff he would do in the community, it doesn’t make sense to me.”
Day told WGRZ elements of the alleged incident involving Pereiras didn’t make sense, but his focus in testifying wasn’t to weigh in on the behavior, but rather to provide background about Pereiras’ character.
“You know, a judge was going to make a determination about what to do and how to impact this man’s life and I began to feel that it was my obligation to offer what I knew of him so the judge could make the very best decision he could,” Day said.
Judge Anthony Vardaro ultimately sentenced Pereira to a year of probation, with the requirement to register as a sex offender for the next 25 years. Vardaro described the case as the “most troubling” in his 27-year career, the Meadville Tribune reports.
“I think more happened than what came out at trial,” he said at the sentencing. “There’s got to be more to the story.”
The situation certainly isn’t the first time school employees have testified on the behalf of colleagues accused of sex crimes against children, or students.
In 2013, Rose City, Michigan teacher Neal Erickson was convicted of repeatedly raping a middle school student over the course of three years, and several teachers in the school district wrote letters of support to the court pleading for a lenient sentence. A school board member, Mike Eagan, also sat with the Erickson family at the pedophile’s sentencing, sparking public outrage.
A judge sentenced Erickson to 15 to 30 years in prison, and the community rallied with a petition calling on the school board to cut ties with the supporting teachers and remove Eagan. The board later voted to keep the teachers employed and protect Eagan, which prompted many families to move their children to different schools.
It was a similar situation this summer in New Hampshire, when dozens of folks, including educators and guidance counselors, spoke out in court in support of Kristie Torbick, a former counselor convicted of molesting a 14-year-old Exeter High School student, EAGnews reports.