A teacher in Florida was arrested and charged with battery after cellphone video showed him lifting a 14-year-old student from his desk, carrying him across the room and then pushing him into the hallway in a confrontation over playing music in class, the authorities said on Wednesday.
The teacher, Jeffrey A. Paffumi, 47, has been placed on leave by the school — Buddy Taylor Middle School, in Palm Coast — pending an investigation into the episode that happened on Tuesday, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
The cellphone video, about 14 seconds long, was taken by another student, but it did not show events preceding the confrontation. The sheriff’s statement described Mr. Paffumi “grabbing the student with his right arm, and lifting him out of the chair.”
“Paffumi then hooks the student’s left arm with his left arm and lifts the student off his feet and carries him across the classroom,” it said.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that Mr. Paffumi had asked the student, who is in the eighth grade, to mute the music coming from his computer, and then muted it himself. A charging affidavit said that the student unmuted the music, and they went back and forth two times before the teacher took the computer.
The student told him to put it down, while calling Mr. Paffumi a “cracker,” the affidavit said. “Show me how tough you are, you want to call me a cracker?” Mr. Paffumi said, according to the affidavit.
The cellphone video, published on local television channels, shows the student’s feet barely touching the ground as Mr. Paffumi hauled him out. The affidavit said the student was not injured and described the grip on him as a “choke hold” that did not restrict his airway.
Mr. Paffumi said the student had started to “rap out loud” in class, and then “slapped his hand away” when Mr. Paffumi tried to turn the music off, the affidavit said. Mr. Paffumi said he was not concerned about being called “cracker” because he is “half-white and Polynesian,” and “grabbed” the student “safely so he couldn’t hurt himself or anybody else.”
On Tuesday, the student told his parents what happened and they contacted school administrators, the sheriff’s statement said. Mr. Paffumi, who was arrested on Wednesday, did not reply to a voice mail message on Thursday. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer. There was no answer at a phone number for the student’s parents.
Mr. Paffumi had a first appearance in front of a county court judge on Thursday, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman said. He will be arraigned on Feb. 11, court records show.
While announcing the investigation, the authorities also raised general issues of how teachers are expected to handle the pressures they encounter while disciplining students.
“As a teacher you have to control your temper even when students test you,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in the statement. “This is an unfortunate incident involving a teacher and a student. My daughter is a school teacher and I know from her how misbehaved some students can be, but as a teacher you must deal with it.”
The sheriff’s statement said the office had investigated earlier episodes involving Mr. Paffumi. In 2012, he was arrested after an accusation of criminal mischief, and in another case that year, he was charged with battery after hitting a man during a bar argument and pleaded no contest, according to records. The cases were closed, records show.
In an emailed statement in response to questions, Flagler County Schools said Mr. Paffumi had been working at the middle school since the beginning of the school year, officially as an Exceptional Student Education facilitator, a role that involves providing support to other teachers and to students identified as disabled.
The superintendent, James Tager, said in the statement published by the sheriff that Mr. Paffumi would remain on leave pending the investigation.
“The actions of this teacher are not consistent with how we expect our educators to act and behave and it will not be tolerated,” he said in that statement. “I also understand a video shows only a portion of a particular incident, so this investigation will encompass the incident in totality and not just what was captured on a camera.”
That debate unfurled on social forums and in news media comment sections, with some people saying that the student should not have been disrespectful and others saying that the teacher should not have resorted to force.
“Teaching is the hardest job on the planet,” one commenter on FlaglerLive.com said.