Thursday February 7, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A high school teacher currently on medical leave from his job and facing criminal charges in court has been accused of allegedly violating a 24-hour curfew he was placed under in late January.

Steven P. Davis, 35, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division to a misdemeanor charge of violating conditions of his release after he visited the local courthouse Tuesday and entered the lobby of the State’s Attorney’s Office in order to file legal paperwork.

Davis was placed on those conditions, which included obeying a 24-hour curfew at the Hilton Garden Inn in Troy, N.Y., on Jan. 28 after pleading not guilty to a felony trespassing charge and a misdemeanor charge of violating an abuse prevention order. According to police, Davis is accused of entering and driving past his home in North Bennington, which the conditions of a restraining order filed by his wife forbade him to do.

Davis, a well-liked math and science teacher at Mount Anthony Union High School, has been at the center of controversy recently. After posting to Facebook and YouTube a number of videos critical of the school district early in the year, police conducted a welfare check on him after neighbors reported seeing him loading a rifle into his car. Davis told police he was moving the gun and its ammunition from his home and into storage and voluntarily turned the weapon over to police. He was later confined to a medical facility for mental health concerns but then released on Jan. 22 after it was found he posed no danger to himself or the community. However, it was after his release that the alleged restraining order violations occurred, according to police.

Davis was released Wednesday on the same conditions he was free on before and a hearing has been scheduled for Friday for a judge to hear his request to have them modified.

According to an affidavit by Bennington Police Officer Robert Murawski, on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. he was summoned to the Bennington State Office Complex for a report that Davis had violated conditions of his release by being there. According to Murawski’s affidavit, the 24-hour curfew Davis was under had exceptions for "...medical emergencies, pre-scheduled medical appointments, court and attorney appointments."

Murawski said he met with Catherine Burke, a victims advocate for the State’s Attorney’s Office, who said she saw Davis in the Office’s lobby. Murawski found Davis in the building sitting with Bennington County Sheriff’s Department deputies. He wrote that Davis told him he had come to court in order to file a motion for his conditions of release to be modified as the 24-hour curfew at the inn does not allow him to look for a job or find a more permanent residence. Murawski said Davis admitted that he had no scheduled court appearance that day.

Davis was representing himself on the criminal matters at the time, however he applied for and was granted a public defender, Susan Keane McManus, on Wednesday.

McManus asked Judge Cortland Corsones to review his finding of probable cause on the matter, to which Corsones said he thought there was enough in the affidavit for the finding he made.

"Maybe this is one of those cases where it’s appropriate to file a motion to dismiss in the interests of justice, but I’m not prejudging it," said Corsones.

McManus said she would likely be filing some motions like that, but wanted it said on the record that "There’s no language specifically included in the conditions of release that states that it must be a court hearing that he’s present for it merely states for court." She added that Davis was in the State’s Attorney’s Office lobby to give them a copy of his motion.

Deputy State’s Attorney Alexander Burke, who is married to Catherine Burke, disagreed. "Even if the court were to read that interpretation of the conditions of release, Mr. Davis was still in the lobby of the State’s Attorney’s Office." He added that the appropriate way for Davis to give the motion to his office would have been through the mail.

According to Davis’ motion, he is requesting the ability to travel to North Bennington to retrieve his mail, which includes communications from court. He is also requesting the ability to see his children in accordance with the restraining order’s conditions.

In past interviews, Davis has told the Banner that he understands his videos, which have since been removed from the social media sites, caused people concern but that was not his intent. He said changes to his medication coupled with an emotional situation he was dealing with caused a hypomanic episode. Davis has denied allegations that he violated the restraining order by being in or near his house and feels GPS data from his vehicle can show that.

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