The Atascadero Police Department has recommended a charge of misdemeanor battery against an Atascadero High School teacher and coach after an investigation into an accusation that he assaulted a student, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office said Friday.
Meanwhile, teachers and students rallied around Chris Ferree, who in 2016 was recognized by the California Interscholastic Federation as a “model coach.”
Assistant District Attorney Jerret Gran said that on Nov. 13 his office received a report recommending the charge against Ferree.
The charge of battery requires “harmful or offensive touching,” Gran said.
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In a statement Thursday, Atascadero Police Sgt. Caleb Davis said his department forwarded the report but did not make a recommendation. Neither Davis nor Chief Jerel Haley responded to a Tribune request for comment about the discrepancy.
Shantelle Andrews, a Merced County attorney representing the family and the minor student who The Tribune is declining to name, said the incident occurred when the student was acting up in class during a movie. She said Ferree grabbed the student by the front of his sweater, forced him to the floor and “thumped him on the chest.”
“This is an assault and battery case, and California law states that an assault doesn’t even have to have touching,” Andrews said.
Andrews said the student did not attend school Friday after receiving death threats when news of the investigation emerged, and that he feared for his safety from Ferree.
Atascadero Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Curt Eichperger wrote in an email statement Friday in reference to the alleged threats: “The district has been made aware of inappropriate social media posts and is currently conducting an investigation. Since the matter is presently being reviewed, and involves student and staff confidentiality, the district cannot provide further comment at this time.”
In a Thursday statement, Eichperger wrote that a district investigation “determined that significant elements of the allegations (against Ferree) are unfounded.”
The Tribune reached out to Eichperger for comment on the Police Department’s recommendation of a misdemeanor charge, but he did not respond.
Several former students of Ferree reached out to The Tribune to praise the health teacher, who in 2016 was recognized by the California Interscholastic Federation as a “model coach,” describing him as compassionate, supportive, and a “light in our lives.”
In addition, a collection of Atascadero High School teachers wrote a letter to The Tribune, expressing their support for Ferree.
“Chris Ferree is one of the most beloved teachers and coaches in the Atascadero community. He has devoted his life to kids,” they wrote. “For over 25 years, Chris has helped thousands of local students as a mentor, teacher, and coach. He is a man dedicated to the highest principles of moral behavior.”
Andrews, the lawyer for the family, didn’t dispute Ferree’s contributions to the school.
“The intent of the teacher isn’t an issue. Nobody is questioning that he is a good teacher or a good coach,” Andrews said, adding that all that matters is that Ferree’s contact with the student “was very much unwanted.”
Ferree has also coached wrestling, football, water polo and cheerleading in his 25 years at Atascadero High School.
The teacher did not respond to a request for comment.