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Jury keeps deliberating case of Hempstead teacher assault

Jurors will continue to deliberate the case of

Jurors will continue to deliberate the case of Annika McKenzie of Hempstead, who is charged with assaulting a teacher at her daughter's middle school. She is shown leaving Nassau County Court in Mineola on April 28, 2016. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Jurors will continue to deliberate the case of a Hempstead woman charged with assaulting a teacher at her daughter’s middle school after the daughter called home to complain that the teacher had put her hands on her during a hallway encounter.

The jury in Nassau County Court in Mineola had begun its deliberations late Wednesday in the case of the parent Annika McKenzie, 35 and continued deliberating throughout the day Thursday, until acting State Supreme Court Justice Jerald S. Carter dismissed them until Monday.

The judge had planned for jurors to deliberate Friday, but lawyers in the case had forgotten that one juror had said during the jury selection process that she was traveling to a family event Friday.

The jury also had sent a note in the afternoon asking for some exhibits and saying they wanted a clarification on what do, “if we cannot agree on our votes.” The judge instructed them to continue deliberating in good faith, but he did not give what is called an “Allen charge,” which judges typically give when a jury appears deadlocked.

McKenzie, a nurse’s assistant, faces up to 7 years in prison on the most serious charge, assault in the second degree, if she is convicted. Related charges were misdemeanors or violations.

Teacher Catherine Lang-Engelhardt, 59, told the jury that McKenzie punched her so hard she “bounced onto the wall” and was then slammed to the floor of the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead during the encounter on April 15 last year.

It was testing day at the school and the initial encounter between McKenzie’s daughter and Lang-Engelhardt came in the early afternoon as teachers were attempting to guide students out of a crowded hallway as they moved between testing rooms.

McKenzie’s daughter said Lang-Englehardt had used a lacrosse stick she had taken from another student to push her against the wall. Prosecutor Rachel Lasry said video from school security cameras did not support that allegation, and said that Lang-Englehardt and other teachers had their arms outstretched to funnel the students out of the hallway.

When McKenzie arrived a short time later, she walked past the security desk without stopping and went to a rear hallway, where she had the encounter with the teacher. McKenzie admitted that she pushed the teacher, but only after the teacher “made contact with my body.”

Three teachers who witnessed the encounter said they saw McKenzie strike the teacher, wrap her arm around the teacher’s neck and throw or slam her to the ground.

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 child.”

While the encounter was captured on video, the movement of students and teachers blocked some of it, and the prosecution and defense differed on what it showed.

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