Dismissed Clay County teacher reaches deal to avoid prosecution on child abuse charge

June 17, 2013

A Clay County middle school teacher accused of putting a student in a choke hold has accepted a plea deal on a Clay County child abuse charge that would end the case, provided he meets certain conditions. Michael Ford was charged in April with child abuse without causing great bodily harm, accused of putting a 13-year-old student in a choke hold and pushing him into a railing, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Ford was fired by the Clay County School Board and was facing a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in state prison.

The state now has agreed to place Ford in a pre-trial diversion program, where he has to meet a variety of requirements. If he does, the state will not proceed with the Clay County Child Abuse Case against him. This is fairly common in drug cases for first-time offenders and seems to be a reasonable conclusion to this Clay County Child Abuse case. Ford does not have a criminal record, according to media reports at the time of his arrest, and was charged with a crime for the first time at age 42. The circumstances that led to his arrest were clearly part of his job as a middle school gym teacher and, quite frankly, may have been handled best internally without getting the court system involved. But, schools do have an obligation to protect students and it was likely with an abundance of caution that they called police.

Ford's obligations in order to have the charge dropped likely include anger management classes and the standard requirements of not picking up and further arrests and passing regular drug tests. Ford is also appealing the school board decision to fire him, the newspaper reported. His job status may have been part of the motivation to take the state's plea offer in an effort to resolve the Clay County Child Abuse Case as quickly as possible. It's highly unlikely the board would reinstate Ford while he still has Clay County felony charges pending. But now, he has the agreement in place to put the case behind him and at least accepted some responsibility, which may help in the minds of the board. Pre-trial diversion (also referred to as Duval, Clay and Nassau County PTI) can be very beneficial for people charged with a crime, especially when they are first-time offenders. It can be a means to quickly resolve cases and get the defendant back to his or her normal life as quickly as possible. Unfortunately in our legal system, getting a case to trial takes time. It's highly unlikely Ford's case would be wrapped up in two months without this plea agreement. From all media accounts regarding the case, Ford will likely have little problem meeting the pre-trial diversion requirements in this Clay County Child Abuse case and can focus on trying to get his job back.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Clay County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Clay County Child Abuse Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.