When the first bell rings at Grant Foreman Elementary school tomorrow morning, a man who pleaded guilty last week to assaulting and battering an autistic child will be teaching students in the classroom.
Daniel Watson was charged last year with child abuse in Cherokee County for spanking an autistic four-year-old so hard it left marks that medical professionals said were “not accidental.”
Witnesses in court last week said the Cherokee County District Attorney became frustrated after Watson’s lawyer got continuance after continuance on the case and, not wanting to put the victim or the victim’s family through any more, offered to accept a guilty plea on a lesser charge of assault and battery against the child.
Watson admitted in court that he hit and hurt the child and was sentenced to five years plus no contact with the child or the child’s family and he was required to complete an anger management course. The five-year prison sentence was deferred, meaning if Watson behaves for five years, he will not have to go to prison.
Then Watson allegedly told Muskogee Schools Superintendent Mike Garde that he was “not guilty” and that the charges had been “reduced to something like running a stop sign,” according to three separate witnesses inside the school district who asked for anonymity because they fear retribution from Garde. Going solely on Watson’s word, apparently, Garde reinstated him to teaching status.
Two of the three district insiders said Garde told them Watson had “not been formally charged” with child abuse when freely-available court records confirmed that he, in fact, had been charged. Another insider said Garde said he had called the Cherokee County DA, who had “confirmed” that no charges had been filed. The DA said no such conversation ever took place.
“He’s a good teacher,” Garde allegedly said to the insider in response to further questions.
Asked by MuskogeeNOW.com about allowing Watson to be in a classroom teaching children at an elementary school, Garde did not comment.
Several school board members who would not comment expressed shock that Watson had pleaded guilty and received a five-year sentence for assaulting and battering the child.
“I’ve never heard anything about that,” one said before quickly following with “that’s off the record.”
Off-the-record comments must be preceded with an agreement, so we quoted that board member because no agreement was in place at the time.
During a meeting of the school board tonight, the board also voted to accept David Walkingstick’s resignation as Indian Education boss after he was allegedly caught working another job while being paid by the schools for months. The schools also apparently agreed to give Walkingstick a $17,000 settlement as part of the agreement.
If Garde or the schools issue a statement on either of these cases, we will report it here or in an updated story. We are currently sourcing more information on both cases.