MOUNT VERNON — According to a report compiled by the Mount Vernon Police Department, Steve Jefferson, engineering drafting teacher at the Knox County Career Center, told MVPD he was being “harassed by the school administration and told the board he was tired of it.”
It was Jefferson’s comments to the career center’s board of education on Feb. 23, that resulted in Jefferson’s placement on paid administrative leave and sparked a police investigation.
The report, acquired by the News through an appeal to a public records request denial, included a police narrative and 11 witness statements.
Jefferson was described by witnesses as using “an aggressive attitude,” being “confrontational,” “aggressive in his words, body movement and eye contact,” and was in “an agitated state.”
Other witnesses used phrases like “even tone,” “confident, nonthreatening manner,” to illustrate Jefferson’s approach to the board members.
School administrators quoted Jefferson as saying he “would bring pain upon the district that we have never experienced before,” “make you famous,” and “bring attention to the district.”
“In decompressing from the meeting it was determined that several board members and administrators were very upset and worried about the danger [redacted] posed to the school,” stated Bernie Pachmayer, Knox County Career Center superintendent. “We had no determination if he was going to do us harm, or do something to the school.”
Pachmayer said Jefferson was placed on leave “while investigating the level of anger of [redacted] and his course of action.”
Board president Richard McLarnan said Jefferson was confrontational and “slammed papers in front of each board member.” He stated he walked board member Ruby Miller to her car because she was “very nervous.” Miller did not provide a witness statement to MVPD.
Others in the room saw it differently, including board members Paula Barone and Margie Bennett.
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Jefferson “was impassioned as he spoke, but I do not recall a threat, nor did I feel threatened personally,” Barone said in her written statement. “… I view a threat as a situation in which one person asserts: ‘If you do/do not do (blank), I will do (blank),’ Such a statement was not made by [redacted], according to my recollection.”
Barone continued to say that she had a “short, cordial exchange” with Jefferson when she returned to her car to leave for the evening. It was the first time she met the teacher, she said.
Bennett stated Jefferson addressed the board about his concerns of misrepresentation of himself and the engineering drafting program. “… [redacted] became more passionate and said he was not going to tolerate anymore abuse by the administration and that the board should know that he would bring a lawsuit if it continued. He was extremely upset which made the meeting very uncomfortable.”
She added that “some seemed to be afraid,” but she left right after the meeting.
Duane Johnson also took no ill will from Jefferson’s demeanor nor did he get the impression Jefferson was threatening violence of any kind.
“He then spoke to some entries [in] the board packet that were inaccurate and direct attacks on him, and his program. [Redacted] stated that they were personal attacks and that they must stop as they were ruining his reputation. I must say that he did not approach the board or any of the administrators. He kept his distance, but stated it emphatically. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knew he was talking about litigation.”
Reporting officer Andrew Burns, stated Jefferson “remained calm and was cooperative,” on the morning of Feb. 24, when he was removed from his classroom, placed on leave, and escorted to his vehicle.
Although Jefferson did not file a statement during the investigation, he did tell Officer Burns “he referred to taking legal action and never made any type of threats.”
Jefferson did confirm with the News on Wednesday that his comments were directed only to the possibly of legal action should the harassment continue.
“That was the message I wanted to get to them,” Jefferson said.
Following the police investigation, the city law director’s office found no reason to press charges in the case.
Editor’s note: Because there were no charges filed in this case, any information that would have identified the uncharged suspect was redacted from the police report and witness statements prior to being released as part of the News’ public records request. Because the News was in attendance during the Feb. 23 board meeting, and because we have spoken with Steve Jefferson regarding the information in the report, the News is confident in its naming of Jefferson as the uncharged suspect.