A former Casper elementary school teacher pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of domestic battery this week as part of an agreement with prosecutors that calls for him to be sentenced to probation.
On Tuesday, Kellan Holbrook — who was a second-grade teacher at Crest Hill Elementary School when he was arrested — filed court documents changing his plea to guilty on one count of domestic battery. The documents state prosecutors will dismiss three other misdemeanors against him as part of an agreement.
Defense attorney Don Fuller told the Star-Tribune by phone late Wednesday morning that the deal calls for Holbrook to be sentenced to probation. Assistant District Attorney Sam Forshner, who is prosecuting the case, said after a Wednesday morning court hearing that he could not comment on the case in advance of sentencing.
The case became public in late November when police arrested Holbrook at the school on an outstanding warrant relating to allegations that Holbrook in August tried to back over his ex-wife with a truck in the parking lot of a Casper restaurant and in 2016 kicked her, breaking her ribs. Authorities did not make any allegations that he harmed students.
Holbrook’s status with the Natrona County School District remains as it’s been since his arrest, officials there said Wednesday afternoon. Spokeswoman Tanya Southerland said that the district holds off on initiating its own investigations until inquiries by other entities — like Casper Police or the District Attorney’s Office — are concluded. In this case, that goes all the way through sentencing, not just a trial or plea deal.
After Holbrook is sentenced, the district will begin its own inquiry, associate superintendent for human resources Verba Echols said. Per the district’s policies, any decision made about Holbrook’s future status with the public school system will be made after that process concludes.
District records show Holbrook was in his fifth year teaching here when he was arrested in November. He was just a few months into a new job at Crest Hill, records indicate. At some point after his arrest, the school district’s online directory was updated to show Holbrook was assigned as a virtual teacher with student support services, which is based at the district’s primary headquarters in west Casper.
Echols said Wednesday afternoon that Holbrook was on paid administrative leave until January, when he was reassigned to work as a virtual teacher. Echols said it’s required by law that administrative leave be paid, and she said that when employees are set to be on leave for extended periods of time, the district tries to find them work.
She said a long-term substitute filled in for Holbrook at Crest Hill for the remainder of the 2018-19 school year and that his position at the school has been filled on a permanent basis. Echols said Holbrook’s reassignment and the hiring for his permanent replacement at the elementary school have already happened and will likely be reflected in district records in August.
She added that there’s a “strong expectation requirement” that district employees tell their supervisors if they’ve been charged with a crime or are facing some legal trouble. She said she personally wasn’t aware of the allegations facing Holbrook until he was arrested.
Until this week, the case had been largely stagnant. Filings indicate the court has multiple times granted continuances to Holbrook for apparently innocuous reasons — most recently Fuller’s personal travel.
On Wednesday morning, a hearing scheduled for change of plea went forward, and John Miner appeared at the hearing in place of Fuller and without Holbrook. The lawyer — who said he covered the hearing for Fuller so he could prepare for an afternoon hearing in another case — referenced a written admission filed Tuesday but did not specify its details in court. He asked the judge to sentence Holbrook in accordance with an agreement that he likewise did not enumerate.
The proceeding slowed, however, when Assistant District Attorney Sam Forshner told Judge Brian Christensen that victims wanted to give statements in advance of sentencing at an open court hearing with Holbrook present.
Miner said procedure allowing for plea, judgment and sentence at a hearing without a defendant present is common. He told the judge Wyoming law does not guarantee such a right to victims in misdemeanor cases.
The state’s victim bill of rights does promise the opportunity for victims to speak before sentencing but references a statute pertaining to felonies.
Christensen said he would set sentencing for a later date and did not directly state how he would address Miner’s argument. A judge’s filing entered in the case the same morning notes Holbrook was not present. It states the judge will set the case for sentencing but does not indicate the anticipated date. It does not reference the challenge Miner presented except to repeat Forshner’s request.
“Note: victims want to make victim impact statement in court,” Christensen wrote at the bottom of the page.
Fuller said by phone late Wednesday morning that he would not contest a sentencing hearing or a victim impact statement.
“If she wants to say her piece, she can say her piece,” the defense attorney said. “It’s an agreed-upon sentence.”
The written guilty plea available in a court file consists largely of language fulfilling procedural legal requirements and notes Holbrook’s waiver of rights implicated by the plea. It notes that he pleads guilty to one of two counts of domestic battery. Prosecutors will dismiss the other domestic battery charge and two more misdemeanors: reckless endangerment and child endangerment, according to the filing.
The charge he pleaded guilty to was one of two stemming from the allegation that he hit the woman with a truck in front of children outside a Casper restaurant. Tuesday’s filing states only that Holbrook does not contest that he touched a family member in a rude manner and otherwise does not describe the crime.
Shortly after Wednesday’s hearing, Forshner told the Star-Tribune he could not comment on the case and suggested a reporter attend the rescheduled sentencing hearing.