After teacher placed jump rope around necks, students sue Central Unified

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The blacktop playground at Herndon Barstow Elementary is the place where Fresno County Sheriff's Detectives say punishment for three students became cruel and criminal.

Longtime teacher Peter Samhammer is accused of putting a jump rope over the kids' bodies as a way to discipline them.

He's facing felony criminal charges and now a civil lawsuit.

"Whether you are goofing off or doing it as a form of punishment, it's probably inappropriate," says legal analyst Mark Coleman. "It's a breach of the duty to act reasonably."

At least one student reported red marks after the incident.

Coleman says the lawsuit lists Central Unified as a responsible party since Samhammer was employed by the district during the time.

Witnesses said he used the unusual form of discipline.

The outcome of the felony criminal case could impact the civil proceedings.

"If the plaintiffs get him to admit to a felony, that can be used in a civil case without having to essentially try the case in civil court. It's an admission if he were to plead guilty," says Coleman.

The lawsuit was filed by Fresno attorney Jason Bell. It asks for damages over $25,000. The court paperwork claims not only general negligence but personal injury as well.

"Liability wise, yes it's a strong case, damages wise, it doesn't sound like anybody was significantly injured," says Coleman.

Samhammer's criminal defense attorney declined to comment Tuesday.
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