The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 31, 2013

St. Peter teacher charged with abuse, assault

Backpack thrown at student allegedly occurred during class

By Dan Nienaber

---- — ST. PETER — A St. Peter High School science teacher, who has worked at the school for two decades, has been charged with malicious punishment of a child and assault for allegedly throwing a backpack at a student's head during a class.

The incident was reported to a St. Peter police officer Sept. 27, a day after it allegedly occurred in Robert Shoemaker's ecology class. The criminal complaint filed in Nicollet County District Court does not say who reported the incident.

Officer Thomas Winsell was told a student identified as K.M.B. in the complaint was watching a slide show with other students in Shoemaker's class when the alleged assault occurred. The student, who was 17 at the time but recently had a birthday, said he wasn't feeling well and was tired, so he put his head down on his desk.

Shoemaker, 53, had been talking during the slideshow but stopped talking after the student put his head down, the complaint said. The student reported he heard Shoemaker walk toward him before he was hit on the head with the backpack. Staff at the high school weighed the backpack after the incident and determined it weighed 11 pounds when it was thrown at the student's head, the complaint said.

When the student lifted his head, Shoemaker was "in his face" and yelling at him, he reported. Shoemaker then asked the student if he was a leader on the football team and a leader on the wrestling team. When the student said he was, Shoemaker told him he should be a leader in the classroom as well, according to the complaint.

Shoemaker also asked the student to stay after class to talk to him. During that discussion, Shoemaker told him he had a temper and apologized for throwing a backpack at him, the student reported.

Winsell also interviewed at least four other students in the class, including one who said the victim told him he wasn't feeling well before class. That student also told Winsell he was scared after Shoemaker threw the backpack and started yelling at the victim about being a leader. The other three witnesses also told the officer they saw Shoemaker throw the backpack at the victim's head, the complaint said.

The victim went to the hospital emergency room in St. Peter because he had a headache and a fever. He was treated for a bruised neck and released.

Shoemaker has been a teacher in St. Peter since 1993. Jeff Olson, St. Peter Public Schools superintendent, said Shoemaker's file was still being reviewed, but he didn't remember any past complaints against Shoemaker that resulted in disciplinary action. Olson said there is an ongoing investigation into a current complaint against Shoemaker.

Olson said an attorney has advised him state law prohibits him from commenting about whether Shoemaker has been placed on paid or unpaid administrative leave as a result of the allegations. Olson did say that Shoemaker, who The Free Press spoke to at his home Thursday morning, was on the school's payroll.

During the 2004-2005 school year Shoemaker received the science teacher of the year award from the Minnesota Science Teachers Association. Shoemaker received a master's degree in biology from Bemidji State University and also teaches education classes at Gustavus Adolphus College, according to his biography on the St. Peter High School website.

The criminal complaint was brought to District Court on Oct. 24 by Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer, but it wasn't signed by a judge until Oct. 30. Both Nicollet County judges, Allison Krehbiel and Todd Westphal, refused to take the case due to conflicts of interest.

Krehbiel said Shoemaker is a "personal friend" and a teacher for her children. Westphal also said he couldn't take the case because he has a child who attends St. Peter High School and has contact with Shoemaker and his associates.

The case was accepted by District Court Judge Robert Docherty in Brown County. Shoemaker is scheduled to make his first court appearance for a gross misdemeanor charge of malicious punishment of a child and a misdemeanor charge of fifth-degree assault Nov. 19.

Shoemaker declined to comment for this story and referred questions to his attorney, Sarah Macgillis. She did not return phone calls to her office in Minneapolis.