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Lawyer says HS football coach attacked player after becoming angry with team during practice

RAMAPO, N.Y. -- Brandon Girault claims Ramapo High School football coach Duffman Pannell attacked him after becoming angry with the way the team was practicing, the attorney for the 15-year-old and his family said Wednesday.

Girault, a 6-foot-tall junior linebacker, ended up tussling with the coach on Monday. Pannell is accused of hitting the player across the head with a football helmet, opening up a cut above his left eye and causing a concussion.

“Brandon is very depressed and he’s angry at the same time,” attorney Jerrold Miles told The Journal News. “He did receive a concussion. His face is kind of beat up. He’s not in the best of spirits.”

Pannell and East Ramapo Athletic Coordinator Bill Pilla have not responded to requests for comment.

Ramapo police charged Pannell with a felony count of second-degree assault and a misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child. His next scheduled court appearance is Tuesday. Justice Alan Simon released him without bail.

Detective Lt. Mark Emma said Wednesday the officers believed they had probable cause to arrest Pannell at the scene based on the extent of the player’s injuries and interviews with witnesses. Emma said officers and a detective continue to interview the players, estimating upwards of 30 were on the field at the time of the incident.

Girault told his family and lawyer that the coach thought Girault made a wisecrack in the huddle and tried to kick him, according to Miles.

“The kids were caught fooling around,” Miles said. “The coach was having an issue with the way the practice was going. The coach thought Brandon said something — and he says he didn’t — and became upset.”

Miles said Girault grabbed the coach’s leg, leading Pannell to grab the teenager’s facemask and yank the helmet down. Miles said the chinstrap then cut off Girault’s breathing. Then, according to the lawyer, Girault unsnapped the chin strap and the helmet came off his head.

“The coach had the helmet and hit him on the side of the head,” Miles said.

Several students defended Pannell and expressed disbelief about the news of his arrest.

Wilkenson Jean-Louis, 17, a senior who runs track, described Pannell as “a father figure” who assisted the track team from time to time and always encouraged student-athletes to succeed.

“The story’s being told out of proportion,” he said. “Not all the facts are out there yet.”

Miles, the attorney, said Girault remains shocked by the incident.

“Brandon has never seen him physically hit a player before,” Miles said. “He didn’t have a bad relationship with the coach.”

The school district is investigating the incident with police. Schools Superintendent Joel Klein said he couldn’t say if Pannell will face any disciplinary actions since the court case remains in its infancy and the investigation has yet to reach a conclusion.

State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman declined to comment on the case, but said in general, the state would consider disciplinary action against a teacher charged with a felony if the superintendent of the local school district reported information that called into question the teacher’s “good moral character.”

However, Burman said, if an assault of a student by a teacher results in a felony conviction, the state will initiate disciplinary proceedings without waiting for the district . The state can issue a range of penalties, including revoking or suspending an educator’s certification or issuing a fine.

In the meantime, Pannell has been prohibited from teaching and coaching the football team. He teaches social studies at Ramapo High School.

The assault allegation is the latest blow to an athletic program that has already sustained major stress — financially and morale-wise —following the district’s sweeping budget cuts the last couple years.

In the last six years, the athletics budget at East Ramapo has been cut in half, from about $1.2 million to less than $600,000, Pilla, the athletic coordinator, told The Journal News last week.

The middle school sports program was eliminated and some varsity teams were cut last spring, and, Pilla said, some athletes are wearing eight-year-old uniforms because there’s no money for replacements.

But the players and their coaches have pulled together to ride it out, Pilla said.

“We’ve had some great success even with (the cuts) and it’s a credit to all the kids and the coaches that are dedicated to their sports, and not using the cuts as an excuse to not do well,” he said.

Miles said the Giraults “are not out for blood as far as the coach is concerned.” He said there’s no contemplation at this point of a lawsuit.

Steve Lieberman and Mareesa Nicosia also write for the Journal News of Westchester County (N.Y.). Staff writer James O’Rourke contributed to this report.



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