Phenix City teacher who taped students' arms together won't face charges

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.com and tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comMay 14, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Sierra Pettway sits in the courtyard of Phenix City Intermediate School. 05.14.13

ROBIN TRIMARCHI

Phenix City Public Schools Superintendent Larry DiChiara said in an email Tuesday a grand jury has reached a “no bill” verdict in the case of a teacher accused of child abuse for taping two students’ arms together.

A “no bill” verdict means Sierra Pettway will not be indicted with any charges.

Pettway, 25, was charged with felony child abuse for allegedly taping together the forearms of a sixth grade boy and girl in December while she was working for the Phenix City Intermediate School. At the time of the incident, officials noticed the boy had bruising on his arm where he apparently dug under the tape. Parents pushed for the charges to be filed.

Pettway, a sixth-grade science teacher in her first year of teaching, said she found out about the grand jury decision Tuesday when a colleague informed her during sixth period.

“Elated, relieved and just thanking God,” were the words she used to describe her emotions. “I just had to keep the faith and press on. I know that the Lord’s not going to put anything more on me than I can handle, and that’s what I carry.”

She said the situation has been a learning experience and she’s ready to move on.

“It was just poor judgment and could have been handled better,” she said of the taping incident. “You live and you learn.”

Pettway’s attorney, W. Don Eddins of Auburn, Ala., said he received an email from Russell County’s Chief Deputy District Attorney Buster Landreau confirming that the grand jury “no billed” the case Friday.

“It means the grand jury failed to find sufficient evidence to indict her and send her case to trial,” Eddins said. “We said all along that if Ms. Pettway did anything wrong it was just a mistake in judgement. There was no criminal intent or anything like that. She just saw it as a method of discipline.”

Eddins said the two children Pettway allegedly taped were being rowdy, and so she threatened to tape their arms together if they didn’t behave. Eddins said when Pettway initially taped the students’ arms, the tape was so loose it “just actually fell off. Then she taped them again.”

He said Pettway was charged with two class C felonies that could have resulted in up to 20 years in prison, which is much more than a drunk driver would get.

“Driving under the influence is a class A misdemeanor that could result in up to a year in jail under the first, second or third offense,” he said. “It’s incredible. I don’t have the privilege of going to the grand jury. So I don’t know what their thinking was, but they were probably as appalled as I am.

“But I think the Russell County District Attorney’s office recognized that the charges were probably a little severe, too,” he said. “I think the DA’s Office did a good job in this case and did the right thing.”

DiChiara said Pettway was allowed to return to the classroom during the court proceedings because school officials investigated the case and didn’t think she committed a crime. He sent a letter to all the parents explaining his decision and told them he believed she would eventually be cleared.

“This verdict was not surprising and was welcomed by me,” DiChiara said. “It never should have gone as far as it did. It’s a shame that someone in law enforcement did not use good judgement before it went as far as it did.”

Pettway was allowed to return to the classroom during the court proceedings, according to earlier articles by The Ledger-Enquirer. At the end of March, Eddins said Pettway was allowed to return to her duties at Phenix City Intermediate School by DiChiara.

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