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Charges dropped in assault on student No proof he, teacher were injured in fight

Charges were dropped Friday against six students at Buffalo's Academy for Visual & Performing Arts after the student they allegedly attacked testified that he was not injured.

In addition, sources said, the grand jury decided not to charge the students with assaulting a teacher because testimony failed to establish one or both of these necessary legal elements: the students' intent to harm the teacher and proof that he was in fact hurt.

As a result, the students were cleared of all charges in a case from last November that focused scrutiny on violence in the Buffalo schools and on Superintendent James A. Williams' handling of the incident.

"All six have been exonerated of all criminal charges," said District Attorney Frank J. Clark. "The matter is closed."

The controversy was magnified because a teacher was reportedly hurt and because the six students who were originally charged were returned to Performing Arts while the victim is receiving home instruction for his protection.

Williams, who personally accompanied the students back to school after a suspension, declined to comment Friday.

However, North District Board of Education Member Donald Van Every said Williams told the board this week that he, along with a minister and representatives of a community group, continues to meet with the six students each month.

"He had good reports on all six," Van Every said. One of the six students reportedly no longer attends Performing Arts.

School and law enforcement sources said the grand jury spent a full day on the case and heard testimony from the teacher, the student who was allegedly attacked and eyewitnesses before clearing the six students of all charges.

"The grand jury had everything before them, and that was the determination they made," said Clark, who refused to confirm details obtained from other sources. "They found no criminal conduct."

The incident resulted when one of the students -- accompanied by five others -- confronted the alleged victim in a dispute over a girl.

Sources said the criminal charges involving the assault on the fellow student unraveled when the victim told the grand jury that he was not injured and did not seek medical treatment.

"I don't think he ever felt particularly threatened by this whole thing," a source said.

The charges involving the assault on the teacher, Robert Kurasiewicz, were more complex, but the evidence did not support allegations that he was hurt and that the students intended to injure him, sources said.

Clark acknowledged that Kurasiewicz, who has not returned to school, was "caught in the middle of the fight," but he declined to comment further. The teacher reported that he was pinned between desks, punched several times and suffered chest pain, dizziness and pain to his legs.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, who sharply criticized Williams' decision to return the six students to Performing Arts, said the grand jury action does not change his views.

"The way [school officials] handled this encourages more situations like it," Rumore said. He called the actions of the six students "a severe infraction of the code of conduct and of the behavior expected of students in a school district."

Mario Colon, Jay Hawkins and Adrian Price, all 17, were initially charged with assault, gang assault and harassment after the Nov. 17 incident at Performing Arts, 333 Clinton St. Three other 17-year-old students, who were not publicly identified, also were charged.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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