Light sparked incident with Grosse Ile teacher, student

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

A Grosse Ile Middle School teacher is accused of grabbing an eighth-grader and yanking him across the classroom after a dispute over flickering lights, according to a police report obtained by The Detroit News.

The report contains conflicting accounts of what occurred May 9 in the final minutes of a sixth-hour LEGO MINDSTORM engineering class at the school, located at 23270 East River Road.

Louis Groh Lafayette allegedly “grabbed and twisted the victim’s sweatshirt aggressively and with force,” according to the police report summary. “He then pulled in a strong and deliberate manner the victim for approximately five and a half feet before releasing the student.”

The teacher was arraigned Friday on an assault charge in Woodhaven’s 33rd District Court, where he received a $1,000 personal bond.

He stood mute to the charge and is due back in court June 22 before Judge Michael McNally, according to court records.

The alleged assault occurred as the class of 26 students gathered near the door for dismissal.

“I was standing next to the broken light switch,” the complainant said in his handwritten statement. “I accidentally bumped into the light switch and it started flickering. (Lafayette) asked who did it and the class pointed at me, and I admitted to it.”

The student, whose name is redacted in the police report, said he was attacked by his teacher after accidentally bumping the switch a second time.

“He walked over to me looking pretty mad and then grabbed my sweatshirt and pulled me about 5 1/2 feet before yelling really loud at the class saying ‘Go sit down’ and ‘Obviously you guys can’t handle standing next to the door,’ ” the victim said. “I felt pretty threatened (and) scared.”

The police report also included statements by witnesses and Lafayette.

The teacher’s statement matched the victim’s early account of a flickering light switch, but Lafayette denied any physical aggression.

Students began to clean up and were waiting by the classroom door during the last minutes of class, he said. A “broken light switch was tripped” and the room went “completely black.”

The teacher “asked if the students could be more careful,” but the light continued flickering, Lafayette said.

After it flipped a third time, he “stood up from (his) desk while stating to the group that they were not mature enough to stand by the door or light switch,” he said.

“I guided all of them from the area with my right hand and they sat down without further incident until the bell rang. I did not yank anyone five and a half feet, throwing them across the room,” Lafayette continued. “This exchange with the students was in no way physically or verbally aggressive in any manner.”

Supplemental witness accounts backed up stories told by both the victim and teacher.

One student, in an emailed statement, corroborated the victim’s claim.

“Mr. Lafayette grabbed (redacted) by the shoulder area and yanked him to his seat because he accidentally bumped into the light switch that is broken,” the unidentified student said. “I thought that it was unnecessary and it looked like it was a pretty hard yank.”

But another witness, also unidentified, told police the students purposely were playing with the light switch and that “when the incident occurred it did not seem out of the ordinary.”

“The student involved in the incident was also at the light switch and turned the classroom lights off,” the second witness said. “The classroom teacher was observed pulling the student away from the light switch and told the class to sit down.”

In a third statement, a student who did not see the incident recounted what he or she heard from others.

“I was told about it,” the student said of the incident. “(Redacted) was messing with the lights and Mr. Lafayette grabbed his shirt collar and threw him about five feet across the room.”

That student did not elaborate on where he or she received the information.

According to the lead detective’s notes, the parents of at least four students declined to become involved in the investigation. The school principal appeared to fully cooperate with the investigation by providing contact information for potential witnesses.

Lafayette is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case, according to Grosse Ile Township Police Chief Joseph Porcarelli.

“He’s been charged with a township ordinance of assault and battery, which is a misdemeanor (with a) penalty up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine,” Porcarelli said.

The legal definition of assault and battery involves “illegal touching” not sexual in nature, Porcarelli said. It could involve a push or a slap.

The complaint was filed by the victim’s mother on the day of the alleged incident, according to the report.

This is not Lafayette’s first brush with an assault allegation.

“Research into the suspect’s history revealed a previous alleged assaultive behavior towards another student in the past,” officials said in the report.

Court records show that the Grosse Ile Township School Board attempted to fire Lafayette after a May 2013 incident, a decision later overturned by the State Tenure Commission.

An administrative law judge who heard the case said Lafayette “rapped (a student) on the head with two books because he was fooling around with the books,” according to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which affirmed the tenure commission ruling.

“Petitioner was reprimanded for embarrassing or humiliating students in his classes three times before the (May 2013) incident,” the administrative law judge wrote at the time.

Lafayette ultimately kept his job after that allegation.

Grosse Ile Township Schools is conducting an investigation into the new accusation in conjunction with law enforcement, school officials said Tuesday.

“While the matter is proceeding through the criminal justice system, it would be reckless and inappropriate to speculate on any outcome or culpability,” Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch said in a statement.

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier