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Devil is in the details Common sense key to ice rink dispute

The basic facts are barely in dispute.

A 38-year-old Lockport father dragged a 10-year-old hockey player off the Amherst Pepsi Center ice in April, after the man said the boy repeatedly fired hockey pucks toward him and his 5-year-old son.

While neither side closed the door Tuesday on a possible plea deal, comments from the defense attorney and the prosecutor suggest that any trial likely would turn on one key issue: Did the father, Charles M. Schmidl, use common sense when he pulled the boy off the ice during a hockey skills session?

His attorney, James Hartt, told reporters outside Amherst Town Court that Schmidl acted appropriately and that most people in the community support his actions.

"It's just so clear to me that what Mr. Schmidl did was appropriate, and either a judge or a jury can see that," Hartt said during a brief session with reporters. "It's safe to say that my client intervened because he had to."

Without elaborating, Hartt cited the Latin term "in loco parentis," which means acting "in the place of a parent."

The most common example of "in loco parentis" is a teacher acting in the place of a parent to prevent any child from a serious risk of injury. The term also can be applied to a coach, clergyman or Scout leader.

"Can an average person act 'in loco parentis?' " Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark asked rhetorically. "I can't answer that."

A person can intervene if he or she reasonably believes that such action is needed to prevent physical force from being used against someone, the district attorney suggested.

"It boils down to a common-sense standard," Clark said. "Was it reasonable for him to believe that he had to do what he did to stop the other boy from hurting [anyone]?

"Was [the 10-year-old] creating such a risk that you had to do something to stop it?" Clark added. "And was that action reasonable and appropriate? You can't drive a Zamboni over him."

Schmidl appeared before Amherst Town Justice Mark G. Farrell for about two minutes Tuesday. Previously charged with endangering the welfare of a child, Schmidl pleaded not guilty to an added charge of second-degree harassment.

If convicted, Schmidt could be sentenced to up to one year in jail on the misdemeanor endangering charge. But no one dismissed the possibility of a plea agreement that could settle this case.

"That's between my client and myself," Hartt told reporters. "We're not going to discuss that."

Clark was more willing to discuss that possibility.

"While there haven't been any meaningful plea negotiations to date, it wouldn't surprise me if this were settled with an agreement before trial," he said. "This case cries out for a resolution."

The district attorney explained that young children were involved on both sides, nobody was badly injured, and each side believes the other side acted inappropriately.

Outside the courtroom Tuesday, Hartt claimed that the lack of supervision from the 10-year-old's parents and the Pepsi Center staff led Schmidl to intervene.

"My client is putting his foot down, and I am putting my foot down, too," Hartt said.

He cited the problem with political correctness, with people refusing to lay a hand on a child, because they fear they could get sued.

"Enough is enough," Hartt said.

Schmidl talked for only a few seconds outside the courtroom, saying he hoped justice would prevail.

"My son's what's most important to me," he said before driving away out of the courthouse parking lot.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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