LANCASTER — Nicholas Brooks, the former substitute teacher accused of assaulting a student last year at Gorham Middle-High School, said he acted in self-defense to avert an attack on him by someone he described as “rude, vulgar and disruptive.”
On Feb. 17, 2022, Brooks, 72, of Berlin, was serving as a replacement paraeducator in the classroom of teacher Jennie Roberge when he observed a then-14-year old male student with a ball-shaped fidget spinner.
The student threw the spinner to two classmates, encouraging its return, and in doing so prompted Brooks to demand that the student put it away, because Brooks felt it was a distraction.
When the student disregarded him, Brooks attempted to take the spinner from the student’s hand.
Brooks told a jury in Coos County Superior Court on Tuesday that in a struggle with the student, the student lunged at him, and “comes up with a claw-like motion to my face,” which forced him into self-defense, said Brooks, who admitted being “scared.”
“I had no time to think,” he said. “I simply had to react to save myself.”
Brooks said that he pushed the student in the chest, driving him backward.
Asked by Mayo whether he ever placed his “bare hands” on the student’s neck, Brooks said “no, never.”
“I pushed him and held him and never once struck him,” Brooks said, although he conceded he did think of hitting the student.
Gorham police initially charged Brooks with misdemeanor simple assault, but ramped up the charges to include two more counts of simple assault as well as the Class B felony of second-degree assault, strangulation, because the student’s breathing was allegedly impeded.
The state, which is represented by Scott Whitaker, the Coos County assistant attorney, rested its case after testimony from Gorham Police Chief Adam Marsh.
Earlier, Raman Montanaro, who was a paraeducator in Roberge’s classroom at the time of the incident, said the student refused to put away the spinner when told to by Brooks.
As the situation escalated, Montanaro said Brooks again asked the student to surrender the spinner or be removed from the classroom. Shortly thereafter, Brooks grabbed the student by his shirt, with Montanaro qualifying later that it was “not by the neck … it (the grabbing by the neck) didn’t happen.”
Upon cross-examination by defense attorney Simon Mayo, Montanaro, the student’s primary teacher for two years, said the student was known to have a negative attitude toward “the educational process,” which the student would sometimes mock publicly.
Despite his opinion of the student, Montanaro was adamant that physical contact of a student by a paraeducator was uncalled for.
“No para in our school would do that without first checking with a teacher,” said Montanaro, adding he had reservations even though Mayo pointed out that Brooks — and other substitute teachers –- have statutory authority to use force to maintain order.
When Marsh took the witness stand, the police chief said that both the student and Brooks in separate interviews acknowledged they had an “issue” with each other prior to Feb. 17, 2022.
Brooks, said Marsh, also said he had “some issues” with GMHS and that he tried to teach the student “some respect” because the student was “defiant and disruptive.”
Asked whether Brooks was apologetic for his actions, Marsh replied that it was “quite the opposite.”
“He (Brooks) said it was the school’s fault for failing to discipline” the student, said Marsh.
Brooks’s trial began Monday and is expected to wrap up Wednesday.