By John L. Braese
VALE – A former welding instructor for both college and high school students at Treasure Valley Community College pleaded guilty last week to seriously injuring a college electrician in front of students.
Tyson B. Smith, 30, stood before Malheur County Circuit Judge Erin Landis last Wednesday and said he assaulted 64-year old custodian, Kenneth Strickland. He admitted to guilt of fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor.
Smith will spend the next 18 months on bench probation, a form of supervision without a probation officer overseeing his actions. In addition, Smith was ordered to attend anger management classes and pay restitution in the case, an amount yet to be determined as medical bills continue to accrue. He will also serve 10 days on the county work crew.
The altercation took place the afternoon of April 6 in the welding shop on the college campus. According to reports from the Ontario Police Department, Strickland had entered the welding area and found students purposely shocking themselves using a wire on a grinder. Smith, the instructor for the class, wasn’t present at the moment but stepped back into the class area.
“He accused me of not doing my job when I came in,” Smith said through his attorney, Doug Rock.
In court, Rock briefed the court on the case and a statement from Smith:“I invaded his space and pushed him. He lost his balance and fell.”
Strickland said in an interview Wednesday that “I politely told the other instructor, Kevin Campbell, I was going to fill out an incident report on what I had found the kids doing,” said Strickland. “Tyson was six feet away.”
According to Strickland, Smith rushed him.
“He grabbed me by both arms and just kept walking forward,” Strickland said. “He slammed me down on the concrete as hard as he could and came down on top of me. It was an intentional deliberate and sucker move.”
According to police reports, Smith is 6 feet 4 and weighs 275 pounds. The 64-year old Strickland is 5 feet 10 and weighs 170 pounds.
Bleeding from the back of the head, Strickland walked to the security office of the college to report the incident. Officers from the Ontario Police Department arrived shortly thereafter, according to police reports obtained by the Malheur Enterprise.
Strickland was taken to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario and then transferred to Boise for treatment of his head injury. He was released at 1 a.m.
Police took statements from the students at the scene, with two saying they had witnessed the attack.
One of the students said he helped Strickland after the assault.
“He observed the two talking and observed Tyson push Ken, causing Ken to fall. He then went and helped get Ken’s glasses and help him up,” said the Ontario police report.
A second student said he “looked back and observed Tyson got into Ken’s face and pushed him. Ken fell down pretty hard.”
Smith was placed on paid leave that day, according to Abby Lee, college associate vice president.
“A full and complete investigation was immediately conducted by the human resource director, including interviews of all parties involved,” Lee said. “TVCC students did witness the incident and were also interviewed.”
Lee said Smith was fired May 10.
As Smith taught both high school and college students, Lee said the Treasure Valley Tech Board, the board overseeing the high school students, was informed Smith was no longer teaching the welding class for the high school students.
“Details about what occurred were not shared as this was still under investigation and was a personnel matter,” said Lee. “This did not occur during a class with TVT students.”
At the time of incident and currently, Smith is employed with the Payette School District as a science and welding teacher.
Lee said the college didn’t notify the Idaho district of the incident, but was aware Smith was also employed as a teacher in Payette.
A spokeswoman for the Payette School District, Tammy Griffin, verified Smith is still an employee of the district.
Griffin said Smith had told his principal there were charges pending, but the district had not been notified of the outcome of the charges after Wednesday’s court hearing.
Faculty and staff at the college were also not notified.
“President Young was in Salem at the time of the incident,” Lee said. “She notified TVCC board members by email on April 11 an altercation between two employees had occurred, but did not name the employees. She also advised them the personnel matter was under investigation.”
A guilty plea by Smith does not end the incident, according to Strickland.
“I have just been able to return to work last week,” he said. “I am back two hours per day.”
Strickland said he planned on working another three or four years before retiring as he and his wife are currently raising a 13-year old grandchild. He is now unsure if he will be able to complete that timeline.
“No one from the college checked to see how I was doing,” he said. “Everyone was afraid to say anything. Two women from human resources came to the house, had me fill out a workman’s comp claim and left.”
(Correction: Ken Strickland was incorrectly identified as a custodian for Treasure Valley Community College. Strickland is the college electrician.)
Have a news tip? Contact reporter John Braese at 541-473-3377 or by email at [email protected].