Fresno principal faces charges after captured on video shoving student to ground

A former Fresno elementary school principal faces charges of cruelty to a minor after he was captured on video shoving a student to the ground, officials said.

Brian Vollhardt, the former principal of Wolters Elementary School, was seen striking the student in the chest during breakfast time on June 7.

The Fresno Unified School District said Vollhardt and a couple of staff members were working with the student who was upset. 

"Instead of de-escalating the situation, the former principal chose to aggressively shove the student down," the district said in a statement.

Superintendent Bob Nelson said the student, who has special needs, was physically OK after the incident and was provided emotional support as needed.

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Vollhardt was placed on administrative leave while the school district launched an investigation. The district also reported the incident to police and Child Protective Services. Vollhardt resigned shortly after and is no longer an employee within the school district.

Nelson called Vollhardt's actions "repugnant" and "absolutely not to be tolerated at any level within Fresno Unified."

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said the incident was reported to police on June 9, but he was made aware of the incident on Sept. 6, nearly three months after the incident.

He acknowledged that there were some system failures in how the information was disseminated along with a delay in presenting the case to the district attorney's office. However, he underscored that there was no justification for Vollhardt's behavior and says that the wellbeing and safety of children in the community is of the highest property.

"I can tell you as a police chief in this community, I have a real problem as to the way that this child was treated. As a parent of a 9-year-old kid, which is a very similar age to the victim in this case and who also suffers from anxiety and doesn't always handle situations in the best way , it is troubling as to how somebody who is supposed to protect this child and provide support, treated them," Balderrama said.

Superintendent Nelson also highlighted the racial dynamics of the incident. He said while there is no information that suggests the altercation was racially motivated, the district is aware that racial dynamics are always present.

"The district is also not blind to the fact that seeing this footage of a white principal aggressively shoving down a young African American boy is going to be triggering and potentially traumatizing, especially for our African American community," Fresno Unified said in a statement.

Authorities said there was a previous incident between the former principal and the student, but did not provide specifics.