The family of a teenager, who was reportedly “smacked” in the head by his junior high principal, has filed a lawsuit against Colin Mize, Mesa Alta Junior High School and the Bloomfield School District.
Natasha Gifford, of Bloomfield, filed the lawsuit as the parent of Jonathan Perdomo, who on May 13, 2022, was reportedly “struck” in the neck during lunch at the school, according to court records.
Now, Gifford’s and Perdomo’s attorney, Arlon Stoker, in a June 27 letter to San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow has requested criminal charges be brought against Mize.
Stoker stated Mize as “an adult in a position of authority striking a child in the head with enough force to cause a concussion is not a joking matter.”
He further said he had “copies of all known video recording of interviews should someone from your office care to review them.”
When the Bloomfield Police Department originally investigated Mize in May 2022 for alleged child abuse and possible assault, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Decker declined to prosecute.
“While there is no doubt that Mr. Mize touched Jonathan Gifford (Perdomo), the criminal charge of battery required the touching be done in a rude, insolent or angry manner,” Decker wrote in a letter to the Bloomfield Police Department.
Through an open records request, the Tri-City Record obtained a letter from Mize’s personnel file in which he said the incident happened on May 12, 2022, which was off by one day from the original police report.
In the letter, Mize wrote:
“I had him look me in the eyes and I explained that he broke his promise to me, and that promises are words to be valued or to not say them at all. I then asked him what they would do in Lovington – he stated ‘what?’ During that time, I had him lean his head forward, and I ‘smacked’ his neck. This was not done in an aggressive manner – he was not offended by this.”
Mize also said in the letter that his actions might “seem malicious and hurtful,” but he was in a situation that “was built on trust, relational capacity and mutual understanding.”
Witnesses to the incident told police the child “was hit hard enough that his entire body jolted forward,” according to a Bloomfield police report dated May 18, 2022. The report was written by Detective J. Swenk, whom Stoker referred to in his letter to the DA’s office.
Stoker wrote that Detective J. Swenk referred the case to the DA’s office, and when Perdomo’s mother asked about its status, she was told the DA’s office “was waiting for video recording to properly evaluate the case.”
Stoker continued writing, saying, “It was particularly disturbing to read” that the DA’s office told the Tri-City Record that ‘the statute of limitations had possibly run, and that the case was still being evaluated.’“
Stoker said no new information has been brought forward since the alleged incident on May 13, 2022.
During this time, Mize was accused of “unsafe” management practices when it came to both staff members and students at the school, according to a 2021-22 performance evaluation completed by Bloomfield Schools Superintendent Kimberly Mizell.
The performance review said: “He did not maintain a professional rapport with staff.” Mizell added that Mize needed to work on his leadership skills to ensure he was acting “in a professional manner that doesn’t result in grievances, unrest among staff.”
Mizell also said Mize “is not at a level where he truly understands the ramifications and liability levels if he proceeds in way that will get him trouble.”
These comments not only addressed actions toward staff members, but also toward students.
“Reflect on current practices that have resulted in unsafe situations in relation to appropriate level of staff monitoring student’s behaviors,” she wrote in the performance evaluation.
Evidence in the court case showed that Mize received a letter of reprimand dated May 17, 2022, from Mizell. In the letter, Mizell said Mize “tapped the back of the student’s head as a form of jest,” not intending to “cause him harm.”
However, a witness, Ashlee Daniels, who worked as a long-term substitute computer teacher, witnessed the incident and reported to both the New Mexico Public Education Department and the Bloomfield Police Department that what Mize did was more than a tap.
“I saw Student 1 (Perdomo) look down and Mr. M took his left hand and whacked Student 1 on the back of the head. Student 1’s head did jolt forward with force,” Daniels said.
The court case alleges “after the incident, the child began to suffer head and neck pain” for which he not only received medical care, but also “underwent several weeks of physical therapy.”
The case further said: “The child experienced pain and suffering, humiliation, and embarrassment, and incurred medical bills for treatment of the injuries inflicted by the defendants.”
Mize, through his attorney Gerald A. Coppler, said in court documents that he “admits that the alleged events giving rise to the complaint occurred in San Juan County, New Mexico, but denies that the events as alleged in the complaint occurred as they are described herein.”
Coppler also wrote that Mize “further denies that he caused harm and injuries to the plaintiff student,” or that he “inflicted injuries on the child.”
Mize “admits the allegations … that he was disappointed with the child because of the incident in class and told the child to put his head down and admits that he tapped him lightly on the neck,” Coppler wrote in response to the allegations.
Coppler alleged Perdomo’s injuries were not caused by Mize, but “were the direct and proximate result of his own actions or negligence and/or actions or negligence of other parties and not due to any action or inaction of the defendant.”
The Bloomfield School District, through its attorney Carlos M. Quinones, said neither the school nor the district could be sued, because only the “local school board has capacity to sue or be sued.”
Quinones also wrote that the district “denies plaintiff is entitled to any of the relief requested,” because it was the child’s “own negligence, misconduct, and or conduct acts or omissions, which conduct either bars plaintiff’s claims or reduces their claims in an amount to be determined at trial.”
Coppler demanded “a twelve-person jury” trial for the defendant Mize, and it was set to occur at 8 a.m. April 29, 2024, by District Court Judge Sarah Weaver.
Attorneys say the trial is expected to last five days.