Thursday February 28, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

Editor's note: This story has been updated online to correct a mistake in the timeline of events, and to correct the location of Steven Davis' former residence.

BENNINGTON -- A former high school teacher who suffered a highly public mental breakdown that involved his posting of videos critical of the school district to YouTube and Facebook, and which led to him turning over a semi-automatic rifle to police, pleaded guilt Wednesday to a felony trespassing charge.

Steven P. Davis, 35, received an 18-month deferred sentence, which means if he complies with court conditions for that period of time the conviction is expunged. The state dismissed Davis' other charges as part of the plea agreement.

Davis, whose nine years of employment at Mount Anthony Union High School came to an official end on Feb. 15 after he signed a severance agreement with the school district, was charged with trespassing and violating a restraining order on Jan. 28 after it was alleged he had gone to his home in Bennington in violation of the order. Davis was placed under a 24-hour curfew at a hotel in Troy, N.Y., but on Feb. 5 he went to the Bennington State Office Complex, which houses the criminal court and State's Attorney's Office, to file a motion to amend those conditions. He was representing himself at the time and according to police he violated the curfew when he entered the State's Attorney's Office to give prosecutors a copy of his motion.


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Davis was accused of trespassing shortly after being released from a mental health facility where had been held since early January after neighbors reported to police seeing him taking a rifle to his vehicle. Davis then posted a series of videos to the Internet in which he was critical of the school district and teacher's union. His demeanor also concerned people who knew him and police and the public were on edge in the wake of the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead, plus the gunman.

Davis never made any threats, was cooperative with police, and in an interview with the Banner said changes to his medication as well as personal turmoil with his family had caused him to suffer a "manic episode." He said he never meant to cause alarm but understood why people were concerned.

"The state believes this is an appropriate resolution to these matters. It appears from all accounts that the driving force that led to this activity was Mr. Davis' mental health and this agreement addresses that issue with requiring him to follow through with his mental health counseling which he is already engaged in," said Deputy State's Attorney Alexander Burke. "Given his lack of history and his age the state feels that he should be given the chance for a deferred sentence."

After being charged with violating his curfew Davis applied for and was granted a public defender, Susan McManus, who was able to get Davis' conditions altered to allow him to search for work and a new place to live. "I think this period of time represents a very painful period for my client in his life. He was a very dedicated educator here in town, a very dedicated family member and husband, and as a result of some mental health issues his life has changed drastically. He hopes to, by taking responsibility, step forward and take his life in a positive direction."

Davis opted not to speak during his chance to address the court and did not comment to the media after the hearing which had been initially scheduled so Judge Cortland Corsones could hear arguments on McManus' motion to dismiss the curfew violation charge.

"I'm not from this area but I've heard good things about you, that you're a talented teacher and a very good person otherwise," said Corsones. "This certainly appears to have been something that was out of character, obviously, for you and was caused by a mental health crisis. It certainly appears to be an appropriate resolution but its also important for you to understand that you need to keep going on this road that you've gotten yourself back onto now so you can get the benefit of this agreement."

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr