A 49-year-old Illinois school teacher is facing felony battery charges including misdemeanor battery causing bodily harm and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and four counts of aggravated battery in a public place, after a fight with a student, the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed.
Natasha Cade of Waukegan, Illinois, says she received a call that her child Brandon Cole, 14, was injured at school. His substitute teacher reportedly gave him a black eye, bruised his face, and left him needing 13 stitches. Cade says, she was irate after learning what happened to her son.
“Rage, upset, wondering if my son was OK,” are the range of emotions Cade says she experienced.
The day of the incident, her son was in class at Jack Benny Middle School in Waukegan, about 45-miles north of Chicago. The school, which is predominantly Hispanic which makes up 74 percent of the student population while Black students make up 10 percent and white students only 5 percent. The 14-year-old says he and another student got into an argument during class which kickstarted a series of events that left him injured.
“Me and the kid were arguing because I asked him a simple question, what phone he’s got and he told me to shut the f–k up,” Cole described preceding Lamont Bankston, 49, interfering.
Bankston, stepped in, but according to Kevin O’Connor, the attorney representing Cole’s family, only made things worse.
“He’s arguing with this boy, the teacher decides to step in and escalate the situation rather than deescalating,” said O’Connor.
Cole says, Bankston told both students to “shut up” then walked toward him. Cole continues to describe the series of events by saying both he and Bankston got in each other’s faces before things turned physical. “He grabbed me and pushed me into the table,” Cole described of the actions of Bankston toward him. Cole continues by describing what happened next, [Bankston] “started throwing punches and I threw a punch back at him,” Cole said. The brawl between Bankston and Cole left the teen hospitalized. Cole described the teacher, who is listed as 6 feet 2 and 300 pounds according to police report, as much bigger than him.
“Another teacher had to pull this substitute teacher off of him in order to stop him from hitting him,” O’Connor said.
Cade says, upon learning of the fight, she immediately filed a police report with the Waukegan Police Department. Deputy Police Chief Joe Florip confirmed to news outlets, officers took Bankston into custody on a misdemeanor battery charge that was later upgraded to aggravated battery.
Since the Bankston’s arrest, he spoke exclusively to Atlanta Black Star recounting his side of the story: “I purposefully have not said anything and have ignored social media because I know the kind of culture we live in, where people automatically make assumptions and start commenting without facts. The truth is, the student attacked me. I have a broken leg that requires surgery and I have to have a steel plate and screws put in my leg permanently. I am now in a wheelchair and will be for the next several months,” Bankston said in an email.
Bankston continued by highlighting his tenure as an educator. “I am a certified teacher in 5 states, including IL and one foreign country. I have been teaching for 17 years and I have worked for Waukegan numerous times without incident,” he said. “Teachers are attacked way more often than people know about, and it always ends with nothing happening to the student and the teacher being suspended. This time it ends with a teacher requiring major surgery and being charged with a crime,” Bankston continued.
At a school board meeting later that night, school district officials fired Bankston and apologized to Cole and his family.
“The school board immediately fired this teacher, they normally talk about due process, but there’s no need for due process when you’re physically assaulting students,” said O’Connor.
In the wake of the incident, the Waukegan School District 60 Superintendent, Theresa Plascenica, sent a letter to students and parents saying in part, “We know an incident like this can be disturbing. I am feeling the same emotions many of you may be experiencing. Our school staff are entrusted by parents to teach, mentor and protect their children. This action is a blatant breach of that trust, and I’m truly sorry that this unfortunate incident took place.”
At this time, O’Connor says he and the family are waiting on the outcome of the criminal investigation before considering legal action, however, he does expect monetary damages to cover Cole’s medical expenses. He also suggests, the school district take a proactive stance in making things right for Cole in the future.
“Perhaps they can do something in a scholarship or something for him to bring his education forward rather than go backwards which is exactly what this school did, they let him down,” O’Connor said.
Cade says her son will return to school as soon as he recovers from his injuries.