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Mom Plans $5.5M Lawsuit After Her Son's Teacher Charged With Endangerment

By John Santore | February 25, 2016 5:22pm
 Osman Couey, a teacher at PS 194, was arrested Tuesday following an alleged attack against second grader Ka'Veon Wilson. 
Ka'Veon Wilson
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HARLEM — The mother of a second-grader plans to sue the city for $5.5 million, claiming her son is traumatized after being shoved by a teacher who was removed from the school and later charged with the attack, court records show. 

Osman Couey, 53, a math teacher at Harlem's PS 194 with a history of disciplinary problems, was charged Wednesday with endangering a child and attempted assault.

Couey was caught on camera two days before Christmas pushing Ka'veon Wilson, 7, into the school's psychologist, Steven Castiglia, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. 

The lawsuit notice filed by Wilson's mother, Chantel Phinazee, 23, names the Department of Education, Couey, PS 194 Principal Josephine Bazan and Assistant Principal Joseph DiCresceno as defendants. 

Phinazee said her son is now "scared of everything" and that he "wakes up every night (thinking) that Mr. Couey is coming to get him." 

"I don't know how long it's going to take for my child to heal from this," she said. "Until then, they're going to pay for it." 

Asked about Couey, Phinazee said, "I hate him. He disgusts me and he ruined my son's life."

The teacher's lawyer, Sam Sloane, did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday. 

A video of the incident shows that the teacher’s behavior was worse than the DA described, according to the Rev. Kevin McCall, a National Action Network staffer who is helping the family on the case.

The recording of the incident shows Couey lifting Wilson up and throwing him to the ground four times before another teacher intervenes, McCall said.

Phinazee's attorney, Harper A. Smith, filed a petition with the New York County Supreme Court on Wednesday asking for the video to be preserved and made available. 

Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye on Wednesday described Couey’s behavior in December as “deeply disturbing” and said the DOE “will seek to terminate this teacher’s employment pending the resolution of his criminal case.”

Following an investigation, Couey was “removed from the classroom and reassigned away from students” in January, Kaye said.  

"This is an appalling incident," Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said. "We have confidence in the steps being taken (by the DOE)."

According to the DOE, the teacher was hired in 1992 and currently makes $105,142 per year.

Couey had four previous disciplinary incidents on his record prior to December.

He used “corporal punishment and verbal abuse” during two incidents in 2004 and 2007, the DOE said.

In 2014, a DOE investigation found that Couey “exercised poor judgment by grabbing a student’s shirt or book bag,” while another investigation in 2013 “found he exercised poor judgment, but did not substantiate the allegation that he pulled a student down the stairs.”

Couey was also found to have improperly employed “corporal punishment and verbal abuse” during two incidents in 2004 and 2007, the DOE said.

Further information concerning the four disciplinary incidents was not provided by the DOE.

The DOE spokeswoman said Wednesday that Couey is a tenured teacher and that the decision to keep him in the classroom after his previous behavioral issues ultimately was the department's. She didn't explain why he hadn't been removed.

On Thursday, Phinazee said school officials hid the Couey incident from her until Jan. 29 and misled her about changes in her son's behavior that she attributes to the incident. 

Phinazee said Bazan, the school principal, started calling her in December to tell her Ka'Veon was misbehaving, activity she now links to his fear of Couey and his pre-existing victimization by school bullies. 

As a result, Phinazee said she started spending time at the school regularly in December and January to monitor her son's behavior, a period during which she had frequent contact with Bazan.  

She said she wasn't told until Feb.10 that after the Dec. 23 incident with Couey, Bazan started sending Ka'Veon to a kindergarten or first-grade room when he was scheduled to be with the math teacher, in order "to protect him." 

That revelation came at a meeting with Bazan, Phinazee said. 

McCall said he also attended the gathering, along with Bill de Blasio staffer Harold Miller, District 5 Superintendent Gale Reeves and United Federation of Teachers representative Zina Burton-Myrick. 

“She lied to me and she wanted to play with me," Phinazee said, adding that she wants Bazan and DiCresceno fired. 

"Don't play with me when it comes to my child."

Asked in February why she didn't report the Couey incident sooner, Bazan "took full responsibility and apologized and said she dropped the ball,” according to McCall.

Bazan did not return a request for comment. UFT spokesman Dick Riley said Thursday that the union doesn't comment on cases under litigation. 

Couey was arraigned Wednesday and held on $2,000 bail.