Wood BoE settles teacher assault case for $36K

PARKERSBURG – The Wood County Board of Education has reached an out-of-court settlement with a Pleasants County couple whose daughter was assaulted by her former teacher.

            The Board on April 9 agreed to pay David W. and Cindy K. Runnion $36,000 following claims they made their daughter, Brenda, suffered emotional distress after she "was the subject of inappropriate physical contact" 18 months ago by Jim Butta, then a teacher at Williamstown High School.  Pursuant to the settlement, the Runnion's attorney, James I. Stealey, kept $12,000, and the remainder was placed in trust with Allstate Assignment Company to be paid to Brenda in structured payments beginning this December, and for the next two years until 2022.

            The settlement was paid by the Board's insurance carriers, National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, and Chartis Claims, Inc.  National Union and Chartis also agreed to pay separate from the settlement $600 to Parkersburg attorney Joseph P. McFarland, Jr. for his work as guardian ad litem.
 
           According to court records, the Runnion's claims stemmed from a Dec. 9, 2010 incident where Butta "came at Brenda with his pen or pencil in his hand holding it in a downward stabbing matter."  After that he, "[g]rabbed from behind pulling her head against his chest holding her chin with one hand and the pen or pencil with the other hand up to her face and eye."

            Three months later, Butta was arrested, and charged with one count or disturbance of a school, and one count battery, both misdemeanors.  He was released on $3,000 personal recognizance bond.

            Records show nine months before the incident with Runnion, then 14, another WHS student, Kelli Edman, accused Butta of grabbing her, and chocking her by the neck.  That incident resulted in Butta receiving a reprimand by WHS Principal Pat Peters a week later.

            In August, Butta, who was represented by Parkersburg attorney George Cosenza, reached a plea agreement with the Wood County Prosecutor's Office.  In exchange for pleading no contest to the disturbing charge, surrendering his teaching certificate and issuing an apology to the Runnion family, it agreed to drop the battery charge.

Records show Magistrate Robin Waters sentenced Butta to 30 days in jail, but suspended it and placed him on one year of unsupervised probation.  As a condition of his probation, Butta, 58, a Parkersburg resident, was ordered not to attend any WHS sporting events in his capacity as a reporter with the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

            Also, he was fined $10, and assessed $170.80 in court costs.

            According to information provided by the Board, Butta began working as a 6th grade teacher in the 1974-75 school year for $7,955.  Prior to surrendering his teaching certificate, Butta retired on Dec. 31, 2010 earning $55,619.

            Following the incident with Butta, Brenda, now 17, transferred to St. Marys High School.

Wood Circuit Court case number: 12-P-43

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