Criminal trial continues for third day for former Neches ISD principal
PALESTINE, Texas (KLTV) - UPDATE 4:15 p.m. - The defense and prosecution have rested their cases. Closing arguments will begin Friday morning at 10:30 a.m.
UPDATE 3:25 p.m. - Questioned once again by the defense counsel, Snider said she didn’t feel the need to make a report to anyone because she thought the girls were just gossiping, and if it were true it was already being handled.
Additionally, the defense shows photos and texts that are intended to show that two of the girls involved with the case are friendly with Snider, which contradicts the state’s claims that the girls are afraid of her.
UPDATE 3:00 p.m. - When being questioned by the state, Snider is asked why she didn’t contact the sheriff’s office, to which Snider replies that she said she didn’t have a reason to. Snider stated she believed she was only mandated to contact Child Protective Services, not law enforcement. The state rebutted that she is mandated to report to law enforcement and said that Snider had a statement from a student who heard about an alleged sexual assault and then sat on it.
UPDATE 2:30 p.m. - Snider is called to the stand to testify. She said she did not tell the girls what to write that day, did not write statements for them and also that she was not aware an investigation was even going on. She said she did not become aware it was a full investigation until she received a call from the sheriff’s office the following February.
Snider said that she was given the name of five girls who were in the library and talking about the investigation. She had those girls called to the office with four of them together and one separated. In an effort to try and find out what was being talked about, she had them make written statements detailing what they had been talking about and what they had heard.
Snider testified that she didn’t read those initial four statements. She then dismissed those four girls and called the fifth girl into her office separately to see if her written statement lined up with the others’. Snider said the fifth girl’s statement did not match the others’ but she was not sure why. She said she did not instruct the girls what to write.
Snider then says she took the statements back to the elementary campus with her and placed them in a file. After reading the statements, Snider said she concluded the girls had been gossiping about the case. She said that she did not contact the sheriff’s office about this because she felt that the gossiping was a school issue.
The trial for a former Neches ISD elementary principal facing criminal charges continued Thursday.
Kimberlyn Ann Snider faces charges of official oppression and tampering with evidence related to a sexual assault investigation. Thursday, the state continued presenting evidence in their case.
After the jury returned to the courtroom, the prosecution questioned Kelli Karczewski, a school law attorney who represents Neches ISD. She said it is not uncommon for either superintendents or school principals to have direct contact with a school attorney.
Scott Holden, the state attorney, reviewed redacted billing records with the witness, who said financial records showing time and cost are not subject to attorney/client privilege.
The records show on Sept. 23 and 24 Karczewski received calls from Neches ISD High School Principal Trent Cook regarding results of a parent teacher conference and a Level 1 grievance decision. Karczewski said she did not receive a call from Snider on either of these days. On Oct. 1, however, the records show an incoming call from Snider about an employee grievance.
Next, the defense briefly questioned the witness. Karczewski said she did not provide legal advice to Snider on the criminal case (alleged sexual assault, modified by the DA’s office previously from sexual assault of a child). She said she has talked with the defense attorney about the roles of school members.
The jury was then sent back out while both sides spoke with the judge off the record.
About 15 minutes later, the defense began cross examination, asking the witness to confirm that principals, teachers and administrators have the authority to maintain health, safety and discipline. The defense asked whether it is standard practice for a campus principal to investigate issues and call students to the office without necessarily notifying parents.
Karczewski said it’s common to ask students to write statements at the secondary level, and that it’s important to have statements written when an issue is fresh in a student’s mind.
The witness said she talked with Snider on Oct. 1, and billing records match this statement.
State Attorney Holden then asked about the conditions for a principal’s involvement: whether a school principal should look into a criminal episode if it happens off campus. Karczewski said, generally speaking, there would need to be some concern that the educational environment would be disrupted for a principal to take action.
The state then asked whether a principal would be over-stepping bounds to investigate if a hypothetical sexual assault allegation involved students off campus and happened off campus. The witness said every situation is different, but if instruction is being disrupted then it could be justified.
State Exhibit 2A containing statements made by students and collected by Snider was shown, but Karczewski said she had insufficient information to comment on whether there was a code of conduct issue.
As the defense returned, the witness reiterated that if conduct off campus could disrupt the learning atmosphere, the administration has an obligation to look into it. She said, in general, statements are a regular component of investigation.
After a 15 minute recess, the state rested.
The defense then called Tabitha Frawner, an investigator with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, to review a timeline for the report of sexual assault.
Frawner described a discussion with Snider in her office on Oct. 1. She then spoke about when the five girls came to the sheriff’s office for video interviews. The defense asked if the girls said their statements given to Snider were false, and the witness said none of them told her so in their interviews.
State Attorney Holden confirmed that on Sept. 17 the sheriff’s office received the report of sexual assault, then on Sept. 28 a report was received about Snider, but Frawner didn’t reach out and just showed up to Snider’s office on Oct. 1.
Frawner said the girls told them they couldn’t believe what was happening with this case, and the girls said they were speculating on what could have happened.
Next, the defense discussed how Frawner must have interviewed many witnesses in her career and must know it’s possible for them to leave out information.
The defense then called High School Principal Trent Cook, who met Snider 16 years ago when he came to Neches.
On Sept. 25, 2020, Cook said he was not on campus since he had to take a bus to get inspected. He said it is not uncommon for him to take buses to get inspected, and when he returned to campus Snider told him she had talked to the students and had them write statements.
Cook said a parent called asking what was going on, but at the time he didn’t know enough about the situation to comment. He had Snider explain to the parent and was present during the conversation. That was the last Cook heard about the topic from a parent. He said it’s common to call kids into the office to have them write statements on discipline issues. Cook said they usually call a school attorney for guidance, and he would have taken statements too if he had been there.
The state attorney asked, “Would you have told them what to say?” Cook said no. He clarified that he wasn’t gone all day, just to get the buses inspected. He said Snider knew the girls and called them in to try to get the situation under control. He said she told the girls not to talk about it anymore.
The state asked if Cook believes the statements reflect Snider trying to get the girls to stop gossiping, and he said yes.
The jury was then released until the trial resumes in the afternoon.
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