My mind was at peace as I was about to begin another day in paradise. It looks to be another glorious day in November. I felt better than usual. Good weather does that for me. The air was fresh, filling my lungs with energy. I breathe in yet again as I gaze at my Weather Bug app, a glowing temperature of 58 degrees with a soft southeast breeze. Nothing could go wrong today, or so I thought. Little did I know, an anomaly awaits me.
It’s about a 23-minute drive to work and back, 46-minutes for me to ponder the events of the day. Lincoln Elementary is a public school in Yellow Waters, Kansas. An urban setting with 503 beautiful students and 38 dedicated educators who cultivate and nurture minds. I am their proud principal, Mr. Douglas Wells, of 29 years. There are good days and bad days. More experience means nothing; there is no such thing as a routine day. Got a love it! I do!
Driving up to my school is always a mirific experience. The school building is all brick, built-in 1902. It’s been updated three times. The community has grown—the need to build on last year gave us additional needed classrooms. I usually arrive 2-hours early. I like to use that time to focus on the details of the day. Although, I was convinced that things would go smoothly. After all, Mother Nature was on my side.
As I enter the building, I notice our most critical individual-the building engineer cleaning the main hall floor. I like shiny floors.
“Hello, Dave,” I say, passing by on my way to my office.
“Hey,” Mr. Wells, how was your evening?”
“Pretty good! Isn’t it a wonderful day, Dave?”
“Sure is boss.”
“Oh, Mr. Wells, When you have time today, I need to ask you about the musical setup you want.”
“Ok, Dave, I will send you an email when we can meet.”
Looking over my schedule, I see that I have a meeting at 7:30 am with my Vice Principal, Mrs. Tiffany Cortelle. Mrs. Cortelle has been an educator at Lincoln Elementary School for 14 years. Two years ago, I saw leadership skills that impressed me to promote her to Vice Principal. She has become an outstanding leader, very knowledgeable about the curriculum and instructional implementation. Teachers respect her. Mrs. Cortelle arrives early with two Grande Mochas, one in each hand. My favorite! Our focus is always to plan out our day. Working as a team delivering the same message is imperative to staff—less confusion. happy people.
“Hello, Tiffany, come on in, I urged.
“Hello, Mr. Wells, I brought coffee,” Tiffany smiles.
“Beautiful day, yes?” I ask.
“Gorgeous!” She responds.
“Yay, you brought coffee and my favorite! How was your weekend?” I ask.
“It was fine. My daughter is about to drive me crazy!”
“She told me this morning she hates me.”
“She threw a fit because I wouldn’t spend $600.00 for a dress to wear, maybe one time, to her high school prom. In a sincere mien, I suggested she get a job and help pay for it. That suggestion didn’t go over too well, at all!”
“Oh my goodness,” hoping that Tiffany would tell me more.
“So, how did it turn out?”
“Well, I m here; She’s there at school, and both of us are a little pissed off; it’s going to be a grand day, right, Mr. Wells!”
“The weather sure has indicated a good day, hoping to keep the positive vibes rolling. I guess the saga goes on. I will be excited to find out how it ends.”
“Shall we get started?” I queried.
“I think we need to spend some time with grades 3-5 today. They seem to be struggling with their Marzano Instructional Strategies,”
“I think that is a good idea,” Tiffany echoed.
“I will be in a lot of meetings today; therefore, I will take 4th grade. If you could, please assess grades 3rd and 5th?”
“That works for me,” Tiffany agreed.
As Mrs. Cortelle rose to leave to her office, I proposed, “Let’s meet a few minutes after school and debrief our assessment scores from the observations.”
The morning continued with little to no problems. Kids are doing well, the staff seems to be chipper, and why not? It was an amazing day; at least the morning was terrific.
And then, the day started to slip into a darker place like a universal spirit had begun to run rampantly with the ghastly intent of ruining my “GOOD DAY”! It became creepy. I thought surely the walls started to shake down the halls straight into my office like dominos falling sequentially.
Suddenly, my door shot open, slamming into the adjacent wall. I could see Mrs. Cortelle’s hand on the doorknob as it flew open. Shock permeated up and down my back as she burst through my office door, unannounced...tears cascading copiously down her rosy cheeks. She was blubbering in a foreign language I wasn’t privy to; It sounded like jibberish or pig Latin.
“What in the world is wrong, Tiffany?” Flummoxed.
“Is there a food fight in the cafeteria? Did Juan kick someone again, maybe you?” I joked, which was not a good move.
“IIINEETOOOOLEVEMYHUSSSBANISSSSINJAL,” and spit erupted from her lips. It sounded like busted morse code.
“Calm down, Tiffany; I can’t understand a word your saying.”
“My husband has been arrested,”
“Oh, My God! What!?” I wailed like a rooster.
“I just received a call from my husband. The police came and took him to jail,” Tiffany shrieked out with emotion!
“For what!?” I am now wondering what the hell happened to my lovely day.
“I received a call from Detective Dumass; he is accusing him of lewd and lascivious acts with his student. “I need to leave!” she stammered.
About that time, Dave walked in. I guess he thought it was an excellent idea to discuss where to put the rafters.
“Not now, Dave, remember, I will email you.”
“Sorry, Mr. Wells, he said apologetically and immediately bolted from the room.
“Ok, close the door. Let’s slow down a bit here,” I proposed in a calming voice.
“Explain to me what has happened. You are obviously upset, and rightly so. But, leaving school in your emotional state will not help; you need a plan.” I suggested.
Tiffany’s weeping was still out of control, but there was some evidence that she was about to slow down her breathing so we could talk in English sentences.
“Ok, I received a call about 15 minutes ago from my husband. He is in the Fairfield jail. Apparently, a female student of his has accused him of making sexual offers of sex to her. Detective Dumass arrived at Washington High School with a warrant for his arrest. I don’t know much more than that right now. I need to leave! Tiffany whimpered.
“Have you contacted an attorney? “You do know that one is provided for you through the union.”
“No, I haven’t called one, but I do know one is provided,”
“I would suggest you take a few minutes and call the union rep. Then contact an attorney. You will need one, anyway, to get him out of jail.
“Ok, I will go to my office and call people.”
I flopped down in my chair. I was numb and dumbfounded. What just happened? I whispered. Before I could gather my faculties, another teacher, Ms. Bracket, stopped to inform me that there was a fight on the playground. While she told me their names, Mrs. Cortelle returned to announce, “I need to go see the attorney!” “Sure, go!” Off like a flash. Faster than a roadrunner, she dashed away. Walking to the playground, I reflected, What was I going to say, no?
My next thoughts were: did he...did Mr. John Cortelle really do this? I mulled these horrible accusations over and over for hours. My head was pounding like a pinball bouncing around it. I had enough trouble keeping my dendrites healthy without this happening.
Before morning, the local media latched on to the story. It was reported on the 5:00 pm news, “Mr. John Cortelle, a Special Needs Teacher at Washington High School, was arrested and jailed for soliciting sexual favors from a Washington High Student. Detective Dunass appeared on the TV screen, “I have tapes, and witnesses of the amorous incident-justice will be served.” It appeared from the newscast that Mr. Cortelle was guilty. According to the detective, there was plenty of evidence to prove he did commit this heinous crime. People will believe the worst. Guilty or not, his career was over. What about Mrs. Cortelle?
Two months later, Tiffany came to visit. I was glad to see her; but, It wouldn’t be a pleasant visit. I knew something was eating at her. I started off the conversation, “Bring me up to speed, Tiffany?”
“Well,” Tiffany started, eyes looking at the floor.
“I went to a Washington Girls Basketball game to watch my daughter play.”
“You remember that she played for her father, right?”
“There were very few places for my son and me to sit, but I spotted a place by my friend Sally.”
“You remember, her kids went to school here during your first year as principal.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“You know, Sally was my best friend, so I thought.”
“I thought, sitting by her would be a safe spot.”
“But, while my son and I were perched in front of her, she made comments about John that were loud enough so I and others could hear it.” Tiffany continued, eyes still facing the floor.
She touted loud enough for everyone to hear her, “Did you hear that John Cortelle was arrested and charged with a malicious crime against a Washington High student? What I understand, he did the most unspeakable thing. He sexually assaulted a female student, can you believe it?”
“I was devastated; my son was humiliated! You could hear a pin drop in a crowded basketball arena. It was awful!” as tears came down, dropping on the desktop and floor.
“Oh, My God! Why would she do that? What did you do?” I cajoled.
“Nothing, I got up, turned around…stared at her…and left.”
And she is your friend?” I said.
“Not anymore,” Tiffany assured.
Then I asked, “What is your attorney doing to help John?”
“The attorney’s name is Ms. Peterson, who was assigned to John’s case, by our outstanding and so reliable union rep,” she said sarcastically. “Guess what? She specializes in corporate law. That worthless bitch knows nothing about criminal law.”
Curious, I asked, “What did she say or do?”
“Ms. Peterson said she was going to go to the Madison County Jail and speak to him...she didn’t show up...Ms. Peckerhead Peterson said she would go to the arraignment...you guessed it, she didn’t show up, and she sent her office aide. What really pisses me off, she has canceled every damn one on one meeting she scheduled with us. And only will talk to us on the phone and has no answers yet on how to clear my husband from these ridiculous charges.”
By the way, “We may be going to trial in two weeks.”
I glanced up, “Has she contacted any of the witnesses?”
“Fuck, no! That bitch hasn’t even called the Washington High Principal!” Tiffany glowered
“Don’t you think you need to seek a different attorney?” I challenged.
“I don’t know if the district will pay for it if we were to get an outside attorney; plus, we just don’t have that kind of money!”
“Well, at this point, what is more important, saving John and his reputation from being castigated for the rest of his life for something he didn’t do or spending the money to get him cleared of these ridiculous charges?” I blasted.
“Common Tiffany, think! You have to do something soon.
“I know an attorney who is fair, honest, and damn good at defending innocent people. His name is Anderson. I’ll jot down his phone number on a posted note for you,”
“Go see him, at least call him!”
“Ok, thank you for listening; you are a good boss and friend.”
“Thanks, but go call him now!”
Six months passed. No trial. Mr. Anderson was hired on the spot; Ms. Peterson was out. As the months followed, Mr. Anderson’s firm discovered evidence to prove John’s innocents. Ironically, it was the same evidence being used to find him guilty. It told a different story. Some semblance of his innocence started to prevail.
After months of delays, Mr. Anderson, John, and Tiffany Cortelle’s were ready to meet with the prosecuting attorney, Mr. Sharpnuts, Mrs. Shithead, and the Howard School District’s attorney, Mr. Nohart.
“Time to fess up,” Mr. Anderson charged.
He began the meeting by reading the rules of evidence. He started the discussion by insulting their intelligence with a recital of the law, “Prosecutors and defendants in criminal proceedings may present evidence in support of their cases. The state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while the defendant may present evidence to challenge the state’s case. Each side should have the opportunity to review the other side’s evidence before trial and object to introducing certain evidence before or during the trial. In criminal cases, defendants may move the court to exclude evidence that the state obtained.”
“Gentlemen, it appears to me that much of the evidence has either been intentionally left out, or some of you need to return to law school; allow me to explain. I am questioning the evidence you have against my client, Mr. John Cortelle.”
“First, can you tell me the whereabouts of the video recordings that Detective Dumass obtained?”
“I do believe that evidence is at the police department, said Mr. Sharpnuts.
“Agreed,” said Mr. Nohart.
“According to the Chief of Police, the video is still in the hands of the Haward School District,” Mr. Anderson rebutted.
“That’s not true!” Mrs. Shithead corrected. “Detective Dumass took it on the day of the complaint.”
“It seems then we have a quagmire situation, don’t you agree, Mrs. Shithead?”
A quiet pause.
Mr. Anderson continued on with his second point, “During my deposition with Mr. Adams, the counselor reported to Mrs. Shithead, during her investigation, and I quote, ‘He only heard Mr. John Cortelle talking to the complainant about skipping school. I was in the classroom during all but 2-minutes of the meeting.’
“I must say that wasn’t in Detective Dumass’s report or Mrs. Shithed.
You could hear a pin drop...no rebuttal was offered.
“I must say, the video is evidence that the alleged conversation took place. It shows the complainant for approximately 7-minutes per video recording time, which we don’t have available. It also showed that Mr. Adams, who shared the room with Mr. Cortelle, also enters the room 2-minutes after the complainant entered, again no video to prove it. I’m perplexed gentlemen, “where is the video? Who changed the original report?”
Mr. Anderson presents his final empirical reasoning, “Gentlemen, I hold up to you, not the incident reports that Mr. Dumass, the school principal, or Mrs. Shithead submitted initially. Someone has deleted the originals and replaced them with the ones in my hands.”
“How do I know this? Mrs. Cortelle made sure to get a copy of the original reports from the school principal and police department.”
“Let me refresh your memory. The police report reads, “The principal, Mr. Newman, calls Human Resources and speaks to Mrs. Shithead to explain the alleged sexual misconduct. She advises the principal to secure the video, contact the police department, and file an incident report, to which he does.”
“He gives a copy of the written report to Mrs. Cortelle. He then surrenders the videos and the incident reports to Detective Dumass. The district union then sends Mrs. Cortelle to an appointed attorney Ms. Peterson, who practices corporate law.”
“It appears the police report has been changed from the original. Based on the evidence’s change and the district testimony, Detective Dumass had possession of the evidence.”
“Is it possible that the only people inside the police department would have access to police reports? I am still curious, “Where are the video and the original police reports?”
“If there is no video available or the original police reports, do you really want this to go to trial?”
“Could it be that Mr. Cortelle was assumed guilty?”
Ten long months later, with many twists and turns, the charges were dropped.
A civil lawsuit followed. The case never went to court. It was mediated by a judge who ordered the Haward School District to pay the defendant, Mr. John Cortelle, $250,000.00 in damages.
Mr. Cortelle never returned to education. The ordeal had damaged his reputation. No school district would take the chance to hire him, even though the charges were dropped.
Mrs. Cortelle returned to work at Lincoln Elementary with Mr. Wells. She is now a successful principal at an elementary school in the same district.
The human resources manager, Mrs. Shithead, left the district for health reasons.
Detective Charles Dumass is no longer employed by the police department.
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Hello Dan! My name is Renika. I was matched with you in a critique circle. First of all, I would like to let you know that I admire your extensive vocabulary. I like that you talked about how damaging a false allegation can be; both for the person it was placed against as well as their family members. It is an extremely important message. However, the sudden changes in point of view and tenses midway through the story was really confusing to the reader. Additionally, I think that the dialogues were a bit rough and jumbled up. I also noticed...
Hi Dan, I was matched with you in a critique circle. I think your story has some interesting parts and I like how you developed the innocence of the suspect toward the end. I think it is more of a rough draft, with a good number of punctuation and other errors, but keep at it! I noticed at the beginning especially that you switched between present and past tense quite a bit. And a lot of the dialogue didn’t seem to move the story forward so feel a little flat. But I know these stories need to be written quickly, and drafts are always messy!