Mission Prep student gets restraining order against school administrator

A photo taken by a Mission Prep student appears to show Director of Student Life Russ Griffith using a chokehold on a 16-year-old student on Nov. 3, 2017.
A photo taken by a Mission Prep student appears to show Director of Student Life Russ Griffith using a chokehold on a 16-year-old student on Nov. 3, 2017.

A Mission College Prep student accusing a school administrator of using a potentially deadly chokehold on him earlier this month says the administrator is a “very angry man” and that he’s now afraid for his safety at school, according to court documents filed Monday.

A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge approved a request for a restraining order against Russ Griffith, the school’s director of student life, who must now stay at least 100 yards away from the 16-year-old student. The restraining order is in effect for 30 days, when the student can ask the judge to either drop or extend the order.

The Tribune is not identifying the student because he is a minor. Griffith did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s unclear whether Griffith remains on the job.

On Tuesday, Mission Prep Principal Mike Susank said he could not comment on personnel issues or the restraining order and referred questions to the Diocese of Monterey about how the school would, in general, handle a restraining order between a student and an employee. A request to the Diocese for comment was not immediately answered Tuesday.

The restraining order comes after a Nov. 3 incident in which Griffith was photographed by a student in a school break room placing another student, who was sitting down, in a carotid chokehold from behind, according to court documents.

Although the student accuses Griffith of assault, no criminal charges have been filed against Griffith, who previously served as a San Luis Obispo Police Department officer for 22 years.

San Luis Obispo police have only confirmed to The Tribune that they were investigating a “possible inappropriate contact with a student” and have not publicly confirmed a chokehold was involved.

The department completed its investigation into the incident on Nov. 16 and forwarded its findings to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office without any recommendation on whether criminal charges are merited, Capt. Chris Staley said.

A District Attorney’s Office spokesman said Tuesday that his office’s investigation is ongoing.

According to the student’s Nov. 27 request for a restraining order, the incident happened when he was sitting with friends in the school cafeteria during break.

“My friend was playing annoying and loud music, so I told him to turn it off and I used a cuss word,” the student wrote. “From behind, and completely unexpected, Russ Griffith came up to me and put me in a chokehold. I had no idea Mr. Griffith was even in the café, let alone behind me.”

The student wrote that Griffith placed both his arms around the student’s neck and started to choke him. The student says Griffith told him he could “drop (the student) right here.”

“He also told me he could make me pass out by putting pressure on my carotid artery,” the student wrote. “At this time, my neck started hurting and I could hardly breathe. I felt like I was going to pass out right there. I was terrified of being hurt and didn’t know what he was going to do.”

The student wrote the “potentially deadly chokehold” lasted about 30 seconds.

The student continued to say he’s now fearful for his safety while at school, not knowing what Griffith is going to do now that the student accused him of a crime.

“Russ is always wandering the halls and break rooms and I never know when he’s going to show up,” the student wrote in the court documents. “He scares me tremendously and always uses intimidating methods to discipline me and fellow students. He yells and threatens all the time. He is a very angry, non-trustful man and I do not feel comfortable anywhere near him.”

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