Student admits attacking teacher

The assault broke the teacher's neck.

Posted: April 06, 2007

Germantown High School senior Donte Boykin, 17, pleaded guilty in juvenile court yesterday to a charge of aggravated assault, admitting his role in the events of a Feb. 23 attack that left his teacher with a broken neck and a concussion.

Boykin, who persisted in playing his iPod in algebra class despite repeated warnings, admitted following teacher Frank Burd into the hallway and pushing him twice after the teacher confiscated his music device.

A statement from a student in Burd's third-period algebra class who witnessed the assault by Boykin and a second student, and grainy photographs from a surveillance-camera videotape yesterday provided the most detailed account yet of the attack.

Prosecutor Leslie Gomez read aloud the handwritten statement and presented the two photographs in court yesterday.

After Boykin pushed Burd in the hallway, the 60-year-old teacher fell toward ninth grader James Footman, who was cutting class. Footman, 15, who knew neither Boykin nor Burd, punched the teacher in the face three times.

Burd fell, and both students fled, leaving the injured teacher "face-down on the hallway floor" outside another teacher's classroom, according to the statement from Boykin's classmate.

Boykin, accompanied by family members and his attorney, said nothing in the courtroom other to affirm that he understood the possible consequences of his plea.

Footman pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, conspiracy and related charges March 12.

Boykin had been scheduled to begin trial yesterday in juvenile court on the same charges. His plea covers only the most serious charge of aggravated assault.

The senior had no prior juvenile record and planned to attend college. He had been accepted at Kutztown University and one other school, Gomez said.

Boykin had seven unexcused absences from Germantown this academic year and had been suspended once in January 2006, according to information presented in court yesterday.

Judge Richard J. Gordon, who described the attack on Burd as "vicious" and "brutal," has set combined sentencing for Boykin and Footman for April 26 so Burd would have to attend court only once.

Gomez said the statement she read into the court record was provided by a male student in Boykin's Algebra II class whom she did not identify.

According to the student's account, Burd had begun the third-period class by showing photographs he had taken at Germantown High School's recent Spirit Night. As Burd began reviewing the previous night's homework, he told the class to turn off or turn down all iPods. Everyone did except for the senior the student referred to as "Dontay."

The student said Boykin turned the volume of his iPod down but then turned it back up when Burd began talking again.

"Then Mr. Burd got closer to Dontay and noticed it was his iPod."

The student said Burd tapped him and told him to "turn it down" and warned Dontay, " 'If I hear it again, I will take it.' Dontay turned it right back up. Then Mr. Burd snatch it and had one end of the iPod and Dontay had the other end. Dontay then stood up and told Mr. Burd to 'Let my iPod go before I sock you.' "

Gomez said Burd left the room in the middle of the period, ostensibly to take the iPod to the office or to seek assistance. Burd has said he does not remember where he was going.

The student's statement said there were at least 30 students in the hallway leaning on lockers. The student said Boykin followed Burd into the hallway and pushed him. He said Burd turned around to face Boykin, and then Boykin pushed him forward, causing him to lose his balance and fall against Footman. The ninth-grader proceeded to punch him in the face three times.

The photographs Gomez presented to Judge Gordon showed the students in the hallway and Boykin pushing Burd from behind.

She said they were taken from a surveillance video camera in the hallway.

The code of conduct for the Philadelphia School District prohibits students from using cell phones and other electronic devices in the classroom.

Boykin's defense attorney, William W. Spalding, yesterday said that although the senior admitted pushing Burd, he had no way of knowing what Footman was going to do.

"He rolled that snowball down the hill that created this tragedy," Gordon replied sternly.

"The only individual wearing a halo is the injured teacher," the judge added, referring to the halo-like device that was screwed into Burd's forehead following the injury to stabilize his head and neck.

Burd, who was not paralyzed, spent 11 days at Albert Einstein Medical Center, where doctors removed bone from his hip and implanted it in his neck to help heal the five fractured vertebrae. He was transferred to Moss Rehabilitation and after 17 days was released March 23. He had been expecting to testify at Boykin's trial but was not present when Boykin entered his guilty plea.

Gomez said Burd is looking forward to making a statement in court at the sentencing of Boykin and Footman.

"Mr. Burd very much wants to be present and speak to the judge and explain to the judge the effect that these young men's actions had upon him," Gomez said after the proceeding. "He also wants to see the two young men and hear what these two young men have to say in response. And he wants to address them."

Gordon has said that both Footman and Boykin may be facing long sentences.

Gomez said there are no sentencing guidelines in juvenile court, but that courts can supervise offenders until they are 21.

Spalding said he will argue that the acts of Boykin and Footman should be considered separately.

"I want to try to demonstrate to the judge that Dante is a good young man, and he made a mistake," Spalding said outside court. "He has admitted making that mistake, but he did not bring about the consequences to Mr. Burd that Mr. Footman perpetrated on him."

Spalding said Boykin is sorry about what happened to Burd.

"He's very sad about what happened to him and very remorseful over the fact that his iPod situation brought about this bizarre result."

After admitting his guilt yesterday, Boykin was returned to the Youth Study Center, where he has been held since his Feb. 23 arrest.


Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or at martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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