FRESNO, Calif. -- A former principal was charged in central California with child abuse after being caught on video striking a student with special needs, and his attorney said Tuesday that what the video shows is out of character for the veteran educator.
Brian Vollhardt, who was the principal of Wolters Elementary, was charged last week with misdemeanor child abuse after surveillance video captured him shoving the child June 7 in the school’s cafeteria.
“My client has been in education for 20-plus years. He’s been a teacher, a special ed teacher and administrator for many years,” Vollhart's attorney, Roger Wilson, told the Fresno Bee. “The conduct that’s on the video appears to be completely out of character for him.”
The newspaper obtained the video, which was released last Wednesday. A day after the video was made public, officials with the Fresno Unified School District and the Fresno Police Department released details on the investigation into Vollhardt, who resigned from his position with the district on Aug. 4. He was hired shortly after that as vice principal of Golden Plains Unified, which put Vollhardt on administrative leave Sept. 8 and said that it would wait for the outcome of the criminal case to take further action.
The police department opened an investigation on Vollhardt after a Fresno district employee contacted the police on June 9, department spokesperson Lt. Bill Dooley said.
Police Chief Paco Balderrama last week said “system failures” within the department were to blame for a monthslong delay in the investigation. Balderrama acknowledged police received video evidence in June but he said he didn’t see the footage or hand the case over to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office until Tuesday, after a Fresno Bee reporter requested information about the case from police.
Documents obtained by the newspaper through a Public Records Act request show prior run-ins between the educator and the student. The principal was accused of forcing the same student to the ground 11 days earlier, putting his knee to the child's back and holding down the student’s shoulder for “approximately 2-4 minutes,” according to a formal complaint obtained by the newspaper.
Wilson said he is still waiting on key information and evidence from the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office as he prepares for Vollhardt’s arraignment scheduled for Sept. 26.