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Closing arguments in Hempstead teacher assault case

Annika McKenzie leaves Nassau County Court in

Annika McKenzie leaves Nassau County Court in Mineola on Thursday, April 28, 2016. McKenzie was charged in April 2015 with assault on school grounds and strangulation in connection with an incident involving a teacher in Hempstead, police said. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A math teacher at a Hempstead middle school escalated a confrontation last year with a parent that ended with the teacher lying unconscious in a school hallway, an attorney for the parent said Wednesday.

“The person who’s responsible for this situation is not my client,” attorney Donald T. Rollock said in his closing argument in Nassau County Court in Mineola.

Assistant District Attorney Rachel Lasry told the jury that the parent, Annika McKenzie, 35, of Hempstead, was angry and assaulted the teacher after her daughter called her at home, just before she was to leave for work as a nurse’s assistant.

The prosecutor said at least three teachers who witnessed the encounter testified that McKenzie wrapped her arm around the teacher’s throat, and threw or slammed her to the floor.

“You can see what happened to her clearly on the video,” Lasry said, pointing at a school security video on two monitors in the courtroom.

The jury began deliberating later in the day and then adjourned until Thursday. McKenzie faces up to 7 years in prison if convicted of second-degree assault, a felony.

Rollock told jurors that the teacher, Catherine Lang-Engelhardt, 59, was disrespectful toward McKenzie and pushed her when the parent came to Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School on April 15, 2015, after her daughter complained that a teacher had put her hands on her in the hallway.

McKenzie, who testified in her own defense Tuesday, said she wasn’t angry when she visited the school and never intended to harm the teacher.

“After she made contact with my body, I pushed her,” McKenzie testified.

She admitted that her niece, also a student at the school, punched the teacher during the confrontation. Her niece was charged as a juvenile and the status of that case is not known.

After closing arguments, Acting State Supreme Court Justice Jerald S. Carter gave the jury legal instructions. He included an explanation of McKenzie’s defense that any force she used was justified because she felt threatened by the teacher.

The encounter happened on a testing day and the hallways were crowded with students and faculty moving between classrooms. Several video clips played during the trial showed the encounter, but some of it was blocked by the moving bodies.

Rollock told the jury that one video showed “a teacher out of control,” but Lasry said it shows Lang-Engelhardt and other teachers with their arms extended as they tried to guide students out of the hallway and into classrooms.

Rollock said another video shows Lang-Engelhardt holding a lacrosse stick she had taken from another student, placing it across the daughter’s chest and pushing her against the wall.

Lasry disputed that, saying the video only shows the teacher holding the lacrosse stick vertically in one hand, away from her body, while she tried to guide the students.

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