MOUNT VERNON — Julia Herlevi, co-owner of HR on Call, the firm which investigated allegations against John Freshwater, was called Friday as a witness in Freshwater’s contract termination hearing.
Freshwater lawyer Kelly Hamilton questioned her as to the investigative procedure used, asking specifics as to how the investigation was conducted, who determined which individuals to interview and whether follow-up interviews were conducted. Herlevi said she could not answer many of the procedural questions, as Tom Herlevi was the lead investigator; Julia was not involved in all of the interviews, nor did she write the report. She said she did proofread and edit it for spelling and grammatical errors, and further testified HR on Call did not give Superintendent Steve Short or Mount Vernon school board members a draft copy to review.
Regarding the amount of evidence required to support a particular allegation, Herlevi said there was no hard and fast rule. In the case of Freshwater’s use of a Tesla coil on students, she said a student said he did it and Freshwater said he did use a Tesla coil on students.
Asked why additional students were not questioned on the matter, Herlevi said, “Both parties said it did happen and both parties agree there was a mark made.”
Later, she said, “If even one child is harmed, you don’t need to talk to everyone in the class.”
If an allegation was not sustained by the evidence, Hamilton asked, would that cast doubt on the credibility of the accuser?
“Not necessarily,” replied Herlevi, adding it could simply mean there was not sufficient evidence to corroborate the charge, which doesn’t mean the event did not happen.
Herlevi said she did conduct the interview with Ben Nielson, the student who testified Thursday afternoon. Referring to her handwritten notes, Herlevi said Nielson told her that Freshwater “certainly discussed creationism and intelligent design in class.”
Upon cross-examination by board attorney David Millstone, Herlevi testified Nielson said Freshwater talks about the Big Bang theory, the possibility of intelligent design, radiocarbon dating and the hydrosphere theory. John Freshwater throws out both sides [of an issue] Nielson reportedly told Herlevi, and did give his personal opinion. Herlevi also testified Nielson told her Freshwater talked about a boat that went around on a flood and that he [Nielson} felt Freshwater sometimes wanted to talk about his beliefs.
Herlevi’s notes also indicated that Nielson said Zach Dennis did complain of his arm hurting the day after the alleged injury, and that it looked about the same as Nielson’s mark made the following day.
Hamilton also had Herlevi review her notes of interviews with former Freshwater students Levi Stump and Riley Swanson, and teacher Ruth Frady. He asked whether those notes were verbatim accounts and she said no. He also asked whether the comments were sworn statements, and Herlevi replied they were full and complete statements.
Hamilton asked if something was not in the notes, does that mean something did not happen? Herlevi replied that meant she didn’t ask a question about it.
When the report’s accuracy was questioned by Hamilton, Herlevi said, “I think the report is fair and accurate,” and also said she wouldn’t do anything differently if she had to do it today. She said she prides herself in getting the facts and in being fair in her reports.
Friday’s only other witness was Jeff Cline, who frequently attended and spoke at middle school Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings. He testified that students, not Freshwater, invited him to speak at FCA meetings, that he led the opening and closing prayers and said that Freshwater typically stood in the back of the room where students could not even see him.
Cline also talked about the April 2008 rally on Public Square. He said Freshwater had no part in planning the rally but that “Christian brothers put that together for John.” He further testified that he was the person who contacted the media about the rally and that Freshwater was not consulted beforehand.
Cline said Freshwater was very upset about the prospect of having to remove the Bible from his desk because it was a source of inspiration to him. He said he had never seen a particular Living Bible on Freshwater’s desk, but that he several times saw Freshwater carrying what Cline called a paperback Bible. Asked by Hamilton to confirm that he has seen Freshwater with a Bible, Cline said, “Yes. Sharing it with other people; that’s his whole life.”
The hearing is recessed until April 2.