Oregon School Board President P.J. Kapfhammer was found guilty of disorderly conduct in Maumee Municipal Court last week stemming from an incident in February at Clay High School in which he attempted to get an unidentified autistic man to identify himself.
Kapfhammer had been charged in Oregon Municipal Court with disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, as well as menacing, a fourth-degree misdemeanor charge, on February 13, following the Feb. 1 incident.
Oregon Municipal Judge Jeffery Keller recused himself from the case, which was then transferred to the Maumee court.
Terry Blachowski, the mother of Thomas Blachowski, 25, who has autism, filed a report with the Oregon Police Department on Feb. 3 that stated Kapfhammer had shouted profanities at her son in the Clay High School weight room after Blachowski had failed to identify himself. 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.The report stated that Kapfhammer entered the room and began yelling and shouting profanities at Thomas. The baseball team manager went up to Kapfhammer and “explained what the situation was.” On Monday, June 10, Kapfhammer entered a plea of no-contest to the minor misdemeanor charge. The menacing charge was dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Kapfhammer was found guilty by Judge Gary Byers, who ordered him to pay a $150 fine as well as $87 in court costs.
Kapfhammer told The Press after the court proceeding that he was happy to have the incident and the resulting charges behind him
“I am glad it’s over. I had no issue paying the fine. I would pay the fine everyday to make sure those kids are safe,” said Kapfhammer. “I did what I thought was best at the time. I was not going to leave until I found out what he was doing in there.”
Kapfhammer was at the high school speaking with a wrestling coach outside of the weight room on Feb. 1 when he noticed Thomas Blachowski in the room with students. He said he was uncomfortable that an unidentified adult was in the room, and he asked Blachowski to identify himself. Clay was hosting the Three Rivers Athletic Conference varsity wrestling championships at the time.
Kapfhammer, who is chairman of the school board’s safety committee, said Blachowski turned away from him and did not respond.
Kapfhammer denied he threatened Blachowski, but conceded he raised his voice while demanding that Thomas identify himself.
“I would not have done one thing differently,” Kapfhammer said. “I did what the police had told me to do. I stopped the individual and made sure he did not get away from us. I did exactly what the department had told us to do.”
Prior to the incident, the board held a community safety forum with the Oregon Police Department in response to security concerns after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Employees were told what they should do if they identified a suspicious stranger in or around school property, he said..
“We were told to approach the person and ask them who they were and why they were there,” Kapfhammer said. “We were told not to let the person leave if we did not get the information. Unfortunately, I approached a person who is not able to communicate. I did not know until afterward that Thomas was autistic.”
“The person who allowed him (Blachowski) to be in there, coach Gary Isbell, was not there,” Kapfhammer said. “There was one adult supervising 40 kids and he did not know he was autistic.”
Kapfhammer said he has always put kids first. He has donated his $125 paycheck for meetings to the Oregon Schools Foundation, he said.
“There has never been one time where I did not put kids first,” he said. “I am not part of the good old boy network, the clique crowd. I don’t want to be a part of that. I am not there to be a popular guy. When I left that room that day I knew the kids were safe and I am fine with that. If people think I am a maniac, I am fine with that as well. A person would have to kill me before they would get to the kids. That day, I was doing what I thought was the best for those kids. I hold no ill will towards Thomas and his family. I am not unsympathetic to autism.”
School board member Diana Gadus said she was not very familiar with the case, but added Kapfhammer was not acting in an official capacity at the time.
“This was not a board issue and he was not acting in an official capacity,” Gadus said. “The only time we as board members are acting in an official capacity is during board meetings. That is the law. This was a personal issue with Mr. Kapfhammer. I was not involved with the investigation and I was not there when the incident occurred.”
Gadus said the board has recently adopted new policies and procedures when it comes to voluntary coaches in the district. Gadus added that Blachowski, as far as she knew, was still an honorary member of the baseball team.
“This was an adult who went through our school system,” Gadus said. “He is challenged and he was with a coach who mentored him for many years.”
School board member Jeff Ziviski disagreed that Kapfhammer was not acting in an official capacity.
“All elected officials are held to a higher standard by the community and we do not get to say when we are acting in our elected capacity and when we are not,” Ziviski said. “As an elected official, you are always serving and representing that office and should always be acting in the best interest of that office.”
Ziviski said the board does not have the authority over who is allowed to be on athletic teams. Ziviski said that responsibility is with the Athletic Director. He added the board did not discipline Isbell for not following the board’s policy because, that too, is the AD’s responsibility.
“The new policy centers around the standards and hiring for all of our coaches, even the voluntary ones,” Ziviski said. “The new policy would not have affected this specific situation as it deals with an honorary position, not a coach. The thought process of the new policy is to strengthen the process we have in place with our coaching staff.”
Ziviski said the district did not pay for Scott Schwab, Kapfhammer’s attorney. Kapfhammer paid for his own legal defense.