NORTH TONAWANDA - The defense lawyer for Lockport Principal James A. Snyder called the case against him “much ado about nothing.”
“The only thing the people have proven beyond a reasonable doubt is that there were a bunch of girls at a birthday party,” attorney Michele G. Bergevin said during her summation.
Jurors deliberated only a half an hour Tuesday before acquitting the North Park Junior High School principal of two counts of child endangerment.
Snyder’s expression didn’t change when the verdicts were first read, but soon he appeared to be weeping as he hugged Bergevin, his mother and a family friend.
The charges were brought against Snyder after his daughter’s 12th birthday party last summer.
The misdemeanor charges accused him of endangering the welfare of an 11-year-old girl at the July 16 party by brushing her hair, kissing her on the shoulders and telling her, “Hey, sexy.”
He also faced a charge of endangering his daughter by yelling at her and throwing a bottle at her. The daughter took the stand as a defense witness and denied that anything bad happened to her or to the other girl.
The girl whose hair Snyder brushed testified that the allegations against Snyder were true, but she offered varying versions of the details, such as where on her body she was kissed and whether there were any witnesses.
First Assistant District Attorney Holly E. Sloma declined comment after the verdict.
Snyder, 46, of the City of Lockport, did not comment, either. Asked if he thinks he will get his job back - he’s been on administrative leave since August - he said, “I’m not able to say anything about that now.”
“Over the next several days, we will be reviewing and evaluating all relevant circumstances,” said Lockport School Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley. “At this time, there’s no change in the status of Mr. Snyder’s employment with the district.”
North Tonawanda City Court Judge Shawn P. Nickerson presided over the seven-day trial after both Lockport City Court judges recused themselves from the case.
During her summation, Sloma told the jury that during the party, Snyder was “so drunk and angry and out of control that his own parents had to call 911 on him -- not once but twice.”
Lockport Police Officer Aaron K. Belling, who responded to both calls, testified that Snyder was drunk.
A 15-year-old girl, hired by Snyder to help babysit during what was supposed to be a sleepover party for a dozen girls, testified that she took all of them to a neighbor’s house after Snyder started yelling. She said she was worried about what might happen.
Sloma, who prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Joel M. Grundy, said she did not have to prove that Snyder did any of the specific things in the charges.
“This is a crime defined solely by the risk of harm,” Sloma told the jury. “This defendant need not commit any act for liability to attach to him.”
She said endangerment is defined as any conduct likely to cause harm to the child.
“Actual harm need not result,” Sloma said.
But Bergevin said the charges contained specific allegations and if they could not be proven, Snyder had to be acquitted.
“What is injurious about yelling in front of a child?” Bergevin asked the jury.
And then Bergevin started to shout during her summation.
If parents yelling at children were a crime, “we’d all be damaged goods if you ask Holly Sloma. Are there any children in this room that I’m endangering?”