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Not-guilty plea entered on behalf of Maywood teacher

EAST LOS ANGELES — A former Maywood high school music teacher who was caught on widely circulated cell phone video punching a 14-year-old student during a classroom argument pleaded not guilty Jan. 4 to a misdemeanor charge.

Defense attorney William Pitman entered the not guilty plea on behalf of Marston Riley, 64, of Anaheim, who was not required to appear in court for the arraignment since he is charged with a misdemeanor.

Riley is charged with corporal injury to a child for allegedly hitting the teenage boy during the Nov. 2 altercation in front of a classroom filled with students at Maywood Academy High School.

Witnesses said shortly after the fight that Riley had asked the student to leave class because he wasn’t wearing a proper uniform. The student allegedly responded by yelling racial epithets at Riley, who is black, including the N-word.

Cell phone video taken by another student shows the teacher suddenly striking the boy in the face, then continuing to hit him as they grappled, even after a school security guard came into the classroom and tried to intervene.

The student suffered moderate injuries and was taken to a hospital where he was treated and released, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Riley was arrested, but was released from jail the following day. He was charged Nov. 30 by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in a case in which he could face a maximum of a year in county jail, if convicted as charged.

The video has prompted a wave of support for Riley. Some backers — while not fully condoning Riley’s actions — have suggested the student provoked the teacher through the use of vile epithets.

A GoFundMe page set up on Riley’s behalf has raised nearly $190,000.

“We all may have mixed feelings about what happened,” the GoFundMe page said. “But please do know that this is not the first time that Mr. Riley is attacked; physically or verbally. He is a great person and a great teacher.”

In a videotaped statement posted on the GoFundMe page after the misdemeanor count was filed against him, Riley said, “At this time, I am no longer an LAUSD employee because I had to retire early … I want to thank you for your words of encouragement, your letters, your support — financially, spiritually. I can’t thank you enough for your overwhelming help. I’m deeply moved.”

Speaking directly to his former students, Riley said he wanted them to know that he missed working with them and hopes that he will be able to come and talk to them “when this is all over.”

Community activist Najee Ali said a coalition of civil rights leaders is calling on District Attorney Jackie Lacey to dismiss the case against Riley.

“He’s grateful for everyone’s support, especially those who gave to the GoFundMe page, which allows him to mount a vigorous defense,” Ali told reporters outside court.

Superior Court Judge Enrique Monguia set a pretrial hearing April 5 for Riley at the East Los Angeles courthouse.

After the incident, the Los Angeles Unified School District issued a statement, saying the district “does not condone hate, violence or intolerance.” 

“The incident we saw does not reflect the values of Maywood Academy High School and the wonderful teachers and students who make up the Maywood community,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said in the statement. “We will continue our work to make each school a safe and welcoming learning environment for students and to provide teachers and staff with the support they deserve.”

Faculty from Maywood Academy High School also released a statement that said in part: “Many Americans saw for the first time the deterioration of respect for teachers. … We have created an environment where disrespect, bullying and intolerance can thrive.”

Staff and Wire Reports