The Press Newspaper
Misdemeanor charges were filed on Feb. 13 in Oregon Municipal Court against Oregon School Board President P.J. Kapfhammer after an altercation he had with a man with autism last week at Clay High School.
Kapfhammer has been charged with "menacing knowingly cause to believe serious physical harm" and "disorderly conduct recklessly by fighting, threatening harm or in violent turbulent behavior," according to court records.
Terry Blachowski, the mother of Thomas Blachowski, 25, who has autism, filed a report with the Oregon Police Department on Feb. 3.
Blachowski stated her son was the honorary manager of the baseball team and was working out in the weight room with 50 other team members on Saturday, February 1, according to the report.
According to the report, Kapfhammer entered the room and began yelling at Thomas.
“During the course of the yelling, the suspect told the victim that he needs his f***ing ass kicked,” states the report.
The report further states the baseball team manager went up to the suspect and, “explained what the situation was.”
“At this point, the suspect walked out,” according to the report.
Blachowski also requested a civil protection order against Kapfhammer in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on February 4, according to records obtained by The Press.
The order was dismissed on the same day by the court.
“At the time, I did not know what I know now,” Kapfhammer said. “This has torn me up. It makes me look like I pick on disabled people and that is not who I am.”
Kapfhammer said he was at the high school speaking with a wrestling coach outside of the weight room. Clay was hosting the Three Rivers Athletic Conference varsity wrestling championships at that time.
“There were a lot of kids in the room and we had a wrestling tournament going on so there were a lot of people we don’t know in the building,” Kapfhammer said. “I noticed a man in street clothes in the room who was just blankly staring at us. I asked the coach if he knew who he was and he said he did not.”
Kapfhammer, who is chairman of the schools board’s safety committee, said he felt something was not right and proceeded into the weight room.
“He (Thomas) was just staring at us and at one point he stuck his tongue out at us,” Kapfhammer said. “I went up to him and asked him who he was and why he was there. He just turned away and would not look at me. I asked him what his name was and I got nothing. There was no emotion in his face, there was nothing.”
Kapfhammer said he asked the same questions a few times and that his voice was getting more “amplified” with each request. Kapfhammer denied allegations that he cursed at Thomas, nor did he touch him during the altercation.
“I asked a kid who was walking by if he knew this guy,” Kapfhammer said. “The kid said he was their trainer and special coach. I had just been through two safety meetings concerning school safety and I was worried, but then I was relieved that something bad was not going to happen.”
Kapfhammer said he left the weight room to continue his conversation. He was then informed the young man’s mom wanted to speak with him.
“[Terry] told me she was my worst nightmare and she started yelling and cussing at me,” he said. “At one point, she told me her son was autistic and I told her no one had told me that. She went off on me, telling me she was calling the press. It spun into something much, much worse.”
Blachowski did not return repeated phone calls by The Press seeking comment.
“He was not authorized or board approved to be in that room,” Kapfhammer said. “We have a strict policy who can be in the room and they must be board approved. It is not open to the public. I feel bad the kid went through that, but if someone would have told me who he was this would not have happened.
“He is not a player or a coach,” Kapfhammer continued. “An honorary manager would have to be board approved and he was not. As a coach, you can’t bring anyone you want around the kids, even volunteers. They have to be board approved and there has to be background checks.”
Although he is upset the incident happened, Kapfhammer said he was doing what he thought was the right thing to do at the time.
“I am not going to leave kids in a room thinking something is wrong,” Kapfhammer said. “In today’s times, you have to be comfortable asking questions of any unidentified person who is around our kids. I did ask questions and I got no answers. This is a 25 year old man. There is no part of me who wants to harm a disabled person. I work with disabled people daily. There is nothing I won’t do to help a disabled person, but there is nothing I won’t do to protect our kids in the schools. I was doing it for the right reasons. You can’t be an honorary manager if the board does not approve it. I wish this would not have happened, but I can’t change it. If policies would have been followed this would not have happened.”
Garry Isbell, Clay’s baseball coach, did not return phone calls or emails to The Press asking for his comment on why he did not seek board approval and authorization for Thomas to be in the building.
School Board member Jeff Ziviski called the incident “unfortunate,” adding it could have been avoided if the proper protocols had been followed.
“In order to ensure the safety of all students in the district, at all times, whether it’s during school hours or during a school sponsored activity after normal school hours, the district has policies and procedures in place to ensure all visitors and non-students are properly identified and kept in the proper areas,” Ziviski said. “It appears that these safety and security measures were not properly followed and that contributed to this situation.”
“The silver lining in all of this is that the district is reviewing where the breakdown in our policies and procedures occurred and will make any needed adjustments, whether it’s to the actual policy or the enforcement of the policies, to ensure similar incidents are avoided in the future,” he said. “The district, like every other in the nation, is focused on evaluating and strengthening its safety and security measures.”
The board recently held a community safety forum in conjunction with the Oregon Police Department where they identified the proper steps to take if an individual believes they have identified any suspicious strangers in or around school property, Ziviski said.
“The district has used time during its In-Service days to train employees and we have a student safety policy that states ‘students are also instructed to tell staff members, parents, law enforcement officials or school safety patrols of any suspicious strangers in or around school property,’” Ziviski said. “With the increased awareness for security and safety, everyone in our schools are taking a second glance at who they see in our schools.”
Ziviski said there have been a few “false alarms” where a school employee has stopped an individual that they didn’t recognize.
“In one incident, it resulted in the police being called to one of the schools only to realize afterwards that the person posed no threat,” he said. “It was a false alarm, but I would take 100 false alarms to ensure the safety of our students and potentially save lives.”
Ziviski said the district’s new security policies have changed recently. During morning drop-off at the schools, parents are no longer allowed to go to their child’s classroom, he said. The children are dropped off at one location then released to go to their classroom when the bell rings. The district has also tightened pick up procedures.
“Parents have been very understanding because they realize the nature of why this is being done,” Ziviski said. “The simple fact is we cannot have unauthorized persons in restricted areas of our schools, and unfortunately this does include a weight room that is closed to the public and is only for Clay coaches and athletes and other authorized school personnel. Everyone is inconvenienced by these security measures, but again, most understand because they know it’s to keep our students as safe as possible.”
Oregon Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Zalar would not comment.
“My understanding is that the investigation is still pending,” Zalar said. “It would be inappropriate to comment until the investigation is complete.”