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Case of Halifax-area high school teacher accused of assaulting student put off until January

Derek Stephenson, a Cole Harbour District High School teacher, has been placed on administrative leave after an altercation with a student last month. LinkedIn

The case of a Nova Scotia high school teacher accused of assaulting a student has been put off until January.

Derek Stephenson, 42, has been charged with assault and mischief in connection with an incident involving a student at Cole Harbour District High School and was scheduled to appear in Dartmouth Provincial Court on Wednesday.

Stephenson’s lawyer, Joel Pink of the firm Pink Larkin, appeared on his behalf and asked for the case to be put off until Jan. 18, as he had just received disclosure from the Crown and needed to review it.

The Crown and the Judge agreed to Pink’s request. However, the judge did confirm that the Crown plans to proceed summarily, which means Stephenson — if convicted — would face a maximum of six months in jail or a $5,000 fine on each of the charges.

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A publication ban has been placed on the identity of the victim of the alleged assault.

READ MORE: Cole Harbour District High teacher arrested for assault after altercation with student

Neither police nor officials with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) have released the name of the man involved in the incident but students at the Cole Harbour high school have confirmed that it is Stephenson.

Nova Scotia RCMP say the incident allegedly occurred on Oct. 3 when a man removed earbuds from a 15-year-old boy’s ears.

“The youth then removed the man’s lanyard that was attached to keys in his pants pocket. The man then pushed the youth into a wall and put him on the floor,” police said in a news release.

The incident was caught on video and widely shared online. The video appears to show a man holding a teen in a chokehold.

The boy reported the incident to school administration and was checked by paramedics, but was uninjured.

RCMP say officers began a detailed investigation, which included statements from “many witnesses.”

The Mounties eventually arrested Stephenson on Nov. 9.

WATCH: N.S. Department of Education to review policies after teacher revealed to have criminal history

Click to play video: 'N.S. Department of Education to review policies after teacher revealed to have criminal history'
N.S. Department of Education to review policies after teacher revealed to have criminal history

Doug Hadley, a spokesperson for the HRCE, told Global News in November that the teacher involved in the incident has been on leave since the morning the incident occurred.

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“The HRCE takes any matter potentially impacting the safety and security of our students very seriously and we are conducting our own investigation, independent of police. There is no timeline for when this investigation will be complete.”

Teacher has criminal history, assault charges

Court documents show Stephenson had previously been charged with assault and uttering threats against former partners. The documents also show colleagues, including a former vice-principal at the school, were aware of the legal problems and acted as character witnesses.

In 2010, he was charged with assaulting his ex-wife. That charge was later dismissed and a judge ordered a 12-month peace bond.

In 2012, he was arrested for assaulting his ex-wife and their daughter. He pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-wife and was given a conditional discharge in 2013. In his pre-sentence report, Barrett Khan, who was the vice-principal of Cole Harbour District High School at the time, provided a character reference letter.

The report notes that Khan said Stephenson had “demonstrated a great deal of creativity in working with adolescents. He has worked collaboratively on many video productions with students. He has taken many of the topics he is required to teach within the curricular area and created very unique projects and assessment tools that were highly engaging for the students.”

Another letter submitted by a former colleague and friend, David Zinck, said Stephenson was a “very honest and trustworthy” person with “integrity.”

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READ MORE: Over $140K raised for teacher jailed after punching student in face who hurled racial slurs at him

Stephenson had lived with Zinck and his family for two months during Stephenson’s separation from his wife.

“I have seen Derek in times of emotional and physical distress and I have always been amazed at his ability to restrain his emotions and actions,” the letter notes.

The pre-sentence report noted that Stephenson had sought out intervention to address his “impulsivity” and that he had support from friends, coworkers and family. It also stated he had given back to his community and strived to be a good role model to his children and youth in the school system.

He was given the discharge, received 18 months probation and ordered to attend a violence prevention program.

But in 2017, Stephenson was charged with mischief and uttering threats against an ex-girlfriend, and received a conditional discharge. He was put on 18 months probation, ordered to attend anger management counselling and stay away from his ex-girlfriend.

In the pre-sentence report on those charges, his ex-girlfriend said he made her feel “uncomfortable” and that she wanted no contact with him.

“I feel he has an anger problem. He needs help with anger and lack of memory over his behaviour,” the report quotes her as saying.

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