CHESHIRE — A Doolittle Elementary School art teacher, accused of assaulting and interfering with officers who were attempting to make a suspected drunk-driving arrest, is due back in court next month.
Byron Pierce, 41, of Middlebury, faces multiple charges, three counts of assaulting public safety personnel, resisting arrest and breach of peace, stemming from an incident outside a wedding venue in Simsbury on the evening of Nov. 30, 2018. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The case is in pre-trial, according to judicial records. Pierce’s next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 5. Pierce was temporarily suspended from work following the incident, but has since returned to his teaching duties.
Schools officials confirmed Friday Pierce is actively employed by the school district at Doolittle. State records show Pierce received his provisional license as a grades pre-k through 12 art teacher in January 2015. The certification is active until January 2023.
The 2018 incident wasn’t Pierce’s only scrape with law enforcement. State judicial records show in 2016 he pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge, stemming from an incident in September 2015. Pierce received a suspended six-month jail sentence and 18 months probation upon entering that guilty plea, according to judicial records.
That incident occurred five years after an arrest for similar charges in May 2010. Pierce received a similar sentence after entering a guilty plea to those charges, records show.
Simsbury police reported that on the night of his most recent arrest, Pierce was found sitting in a car outside The Riverview, a wedding venue in town. According arrest records, when responding officers approached they noticed “the strong odor of alcohol coming from inside the vehicle.”
Officers also observed Pierce’s eyes were “puffy and extremely glossy” and his speech was slurred. Pierce stepped out of his vehicle, when officers asked him to. However, he became agitated and disobedient when officers asked him to stay near the vehicle while officers investigated, the report said.
According to the report, Pierce refused to take a field sobriety test and began cursing at officers. Pierce fought off officers’ attempt to detain him, until those officers — who reported having to use physical force, including batons and pepper spray — were able to lay him onto the ground face down and handcuff him.
Simsbury police said officers who attempted to detain Pierce that evening were treated for injuries.
Pierce returned to work on Dec. 19, after having been placed on a brief administrative leave following the Simsbury incident, according to a previous report published in The Republican-American.
Phone calls to Pierce and the office of his attorney were not returned. According to state judicial records, Pierce has pleaded not guilty to three charges of assaulting a public safety officer and a misdemeanor charge of interfering with an arrest.
In an email, School Superintendent Jeffrey F. Solan acknowledged a reporter’s request for records related to Pierce’s employment in the school district, but could not be reached for further comment.
Vincent Masciana, the school district’s chief operating officer, also could not be reached for comment.
Board of Education Chairwoman Kathryn Hallen declined to address the Pierce matter specifically. When asked about checking the backgrounds of potential educators, Hallen said “I think we need to make sure that whatever background checks we do are comprehensive, and that we are aware of people’s backgrounds.”
Hallen said she was unsure if previous DUI convictions or other similar incidents meant someone can’t be hired as an educator.
“There may be people with that kind of background who can be rehabilitated,” Hallen said.
Hallen noted the district must follow the steps outlined in the district’s contract with the Educators Association of Cheshire and also abide by state statutory language when it comes to disciplining educators accused of potential misconduct.
Anthony Perugini, who chairs the board's personnel committee, also declined to discuss personnel matters specifically.
But, Perugini said, speaking from his perspective as a parent with two daughters in the Cheshire Public Schools and not as a board member, he does have concerns.
"... (I)f the nature of the allegations are true, then it's very concerning to me. I expect all stakeholders in our school system to be held to a high standard and code of conduct," he wrote in an email. "The allegations, if true, are not becoming of a certified professional entrusted to lead by example both as an educator and as a productive member of society in front of our students."
Perugini suggested it's time that the board "takes a serious look into its policies to determine where the loophole(s), if any, may be that has prevented action from being taken on this matter."
Tim White, a former town councilor and current Board of Education candidate, said Pierce “needs to be removed from the classroom.”
“Frankly, he probably shouldn’t be a public school teacher,” he added.
White said while Cheshire’s teacher’s union is “doing what it’s supposed to be doing, defending its members, this particular situation, this isn’t something you negotiate.”