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Hempstead mom gets 6 months in jail for assault on teacher

Annika McKenzie sentenced 6 months at the Nassau

Annika McKenzie sentenced 6 months at the Nassau County Courthouse for attacking a schoolteacher in a Hempstead middle school on Friday, March 10, 2017 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A judge Friday sentenced a Hempstead woman to 6 months in jail and 5 years of probation for punching and choking a teacher at her daughter’s middle school.

A Nassau County jury in January found Annika McKenzie, 36, guilty of felony assault for the confrontation inside Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School on April 15, 2015.

The panel also convicted her of harassment and disorderly conduct. A previous jury was unable to reach a verdict on most of the charges, resulting in a mistrial.

Assistant District Attorney Rachael Whalen told Judge Alan Honorof before he imposed the sentence that McKenzie has continued to blame the victim and “never taken responsibility for her actions that day.”

Seeking leniency, defense attorney Donald Rollock of Mineola said his client was “not a bad person” but “did a bad thing,” and that the teacher “has some responsibility” for what happened.

McKenzie, a home health aide who has been jailed since her conviction, gave a brief apology in court Friday after her attorney said she also had written a letter expressing remorse.

Prosecutors said the attack left math teacher Catherine Lang-Engelhardt, 60, unconscious for about two minutes and suffering from a concussion.

McKenzie barged into the school to confront the teacher about an incident in a school hallway earlier that day that involved the parent’s 12-year-old daughter, according to authorities.

During the trial, the defense said the girl called home to say the teacher had used a lacrosse stick she took from another student to push her against a wall. Lang-Engelhardt denied that claim.

Prosecutors said the confrontation between parent and teacher escalated after the teacher asked McKenzie to get a pass from school security, with the parent grabbing the teacher by the neck, and choking and punching her.

McKenzie’s 14-year-old niece — also a student at the school — kicked the teacher and hit her with a bottle when she was on the ground, according to prosecutors. Police also arrested the teen, but that case went to Family Court and officials said Friday the outcome isn’t public.

McKenzie claimed after her arrest that the teacher pushed her first, and Rollock argued at trial that the parent grabbed the teacher by the neck because she believed the teacher was going to hit her.

Rollock, who said Friday his client intends to appeal, believes McKenzie’s niece caused the teacher to lose consciousness.

District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement Friday that McKenzie “violently assaulted a teacher in front of students.”

“This sentence is a reminder that we cannot and will not tolerate violence against teachers or children in our schools,” Singas added.

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