A veteran educator in Port Arthur was exonerated Wednesday, March 12, after a jury found her not guilty of injuring a former student.
Gunner was indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury May 16, 2013, on a charge of injury to a child, a third-degree felony.
The charge was the result of an April 5, 2013, altercation between Ruby Gunner, 63, and a fourth grader at Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Port Arthur.
Her trial began in Judge John Stevens Criminal District Court on Tuesday with testimony from the student, now 12 years old, who was repeating the 4th grade and said he was completing a work assignment as punishment when Gunner informed him he could not go to a parade that day with his classmates.
According to the child’s testimony, the boy tried to circumvent Gunner’s authority and go to the parade anyway, and a scuffle broke out between the two that continued later after the child returned from the counselor’s office.
What happened next was what witnesses described as an altercation in which desks were flying, causing at least one other student to become injured in the fray and a teacher to hit a panic button installed in each classroom.
Gunner did not testify in her defense. In fact, the defense didn’t call a single witness. But in the end, it seems a jury did not believe the testimony of the student, choosing to find Gunner not guilty of felony injury to a child.
Defense attorney Paul Darrow said, “The fact of the matter is, he was mad he couldn’t go to the parade that day. He was mad he had to write a composition because he didn’t do his work the day before. Then he didn’t do it before the parade and Mrs. Gunner said, ‘You can’t go,’ and he was upset,” Darrow said in his closing arguments. “Now, is this the witness that you want to convict a 63-year-old woman?”
Darrow went so far as to say if his own child had acted in a similar manner, he would hope a teacher would have the protection under the law to control their own classroom.
“I gotta say, if my child had acted like this in school, I hope someone would respond like Mrs. Gunner,” Darrow said. “And if my child laid a hand on a teacher, kicked a teacher, cussed a teacher, Ms. Gunner is going to be the least of my kids’ worries. I guarantee you that.”
Gunner is on suspended leave with pay after the Port Arthur School District voted to begin the process of firing her in January. Gunner has hinted she will likely seek legal action against Robert E. Lee Elementary for wrongful termination, although she would not comment further when asked immediately following the jury’s not guilty verdict.
Clay Thorp can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 222, or by e-mail at clay [at] theexaminer [dot] com.