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Long IslandCrime

Mistrial declared in Hempstead teacher assault case

Annika McKenzie, 35, leaves the Nassau County Courthouse

Annika McKenzie, 35, leaves the Nassau County Courthouse on Monday, May 9, 2016. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The judge in the case of a Hempstead parent charged with assaulting a schoolteacher declared a mistrial Monday after jurors told him for the second time they could not reach a verdict on most charges.

Earlier in the day, the jury in County Court in Mineola acquitted Annika McKenzie, 35, of a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass.

Jurors, who began deliberating last Wednesday, sent a note about 4 p.m. to acting state Supreme Court Justice Jerald S. Carter saying they were unable to agree on a verdict on the more serious assault charges, “with no one budging on their stand.”

Two hours later, he declared a mistrial after the jury reported it was still deadlocked on the assault charges, and lesser harassment and disorderly conduct charges, which are noncriminal violations punishable by up to 15 days in jail.

The top assault charge carries a penalty of 2 to 7 years in jail. The trespass charge on which McKenzie was acquitted carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail.

The acquittals stand but she faces retrial on the charges on which the jury could not agree.

After the first deadlock note, the judge had given the jury a back-to-work order — known as an Allen charge — asking them to resume deliberations in the hope of reaching a verdict. But jurors could not come to a unanimous decision.

Jury foreman Roy Smith, 27, of Elmont said afterward that the two areas of disagreement were the word “intent” when it came to McKenzie’s actions, and whether she was justified in using force if she thought the teacher was about to hit her.

“That kind of hung a few people up, and [hung up] the whole process,” Smith said.

Teacher Catherine Lang-Engelhardt, 59, testified that McKenzie struck her and slammed her to the ground during the encounter at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead on April 15 of last year.

Defense attorney Donald T. Rollock of Mineola said Lang-Engelhardt was the aggressor and that McKenzie was “a mom trying to find out what happened” to her daughter, who called home to say she had been pushed by a teacher.

McKenzie told the jury she never pushed the teacher, but that the teacher pushed her. She said she then grabbed the teacher “and I put her to the floor.”

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.

Three other teachers who witnessed the encounter said they saw McKenzie wrap her arm around Lang-Englehardt’s neck and slam or throw her to the ground.

The judge had told the jurors before discharging them that they should consider what they said publicly about the case because another jury might have to consider the same charges on which they disagreed. Most jurors declined to talk.

Rollock said he talked to a few jurors afterward and “I think they could not decide whether my client caused her injuries or not.”

“I think when this case first came out it looked like it would be a slam dunk, it’s going to show one thing, and obviously they [jurors] were questioning the teacher. They were questioning some of the stuff the teacher did,” Rollock said.

“Everybody needs to take a look at what the teacher did, her conduct, her actions, because her actions are what created the whole situation,” Rollock said.

The district attorney’s office said it would retry the case, which is scheduled to be back in court May 19.

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