Child Neglect: Is School Official Cherith Roberts Charge Linked To 5-Year-Old’s Bizarre Discipline?

A child neglect indictment came down on a second school administrator at a Tennessee elementary school on Wednesday. Cherith Roberts, 35, a program assistant at Holston View Elementary School in Bristol, was charged with one count of the felony charge that appears to stem from a bizarre January disciplinary incident in which the school’s principal, police say, locked a 5-year-old girl outside the school in sub-freezing temperatures, sat on the other side of the glass door, and then took pictures of her.

Police and prosecutors have not confirmed that the January incident is the source of the child neglect charge against Roberts — and of indictments in May against now-suspended Holston View Principal Jerry Poteat on charges of attempting to commit child abuse and attempting commit child neglect — or if the charges relate to any possible separate incident.

The indictment against Poteat said only that the principal “did unlawfully and knowingly, other than by accidental means, attempt to treat … a child under eight years of age in a manner so as to attempt to adversely affect the child’s health and welfare.”

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Suspended school principal Jerry Poteat (Photo BY Sullivan County Sheriff's Office)

Sullivan County, Tennessee, court documents revealed in July by WJHL-TV News contained surveillance video stills taken at the school that appear to show Poteat sitting in a chair at an entrance to the school while the 5-year-old girl remained outside.

“Upon viewing the schools surveillance video, detectives observed the Principal Jerry Poteat checking and using his cell phone while the (5-year-old) girl that he intentionally locked outside the school building, unsupervised in the 27 degree weather,” according to a police search warrant contained in the court documents.

Detective also watched as Poteat, on the video, took pictures or video of the girl after he had allowed her to reenter the building.

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Surveillance video still (Image via Sullivan County court documents)

If that incident is indeed what led to the indictment of Roberts, how she was involved in the bizarre and seemingly cruel discipline of the 5-year-old remains unclear.

A report in the Kingsport Times-News newspaper said that Roberts’ indictment stemmed from an incident on January 7. The surveillance video of Poteat allegedly forcing the little girl to stand outside in the cold is dated January 27. If the date mentioned in the Times-News report is correct, it appears that Roberts was indicted for alleged involvement in an entirely different child neglect incident, but what that incident may be has not been made public.

Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Julie Canter said only that Roberts carried out “improper discipline” against a child younger than eight, and that her actions resulted in psychological harm to the child.

Police have said that they learned about the child neglect offense which they say Roberts committed in the course of their investigation of Poteat.

Roberts was the school’s vice-principal in January. On February 7, she was placed on administrative leave by the school in response to a police investigation. On August 26, she was transferred to an administrative role that kept her away from children at the school, as well as from their parents.

“We are finalizing the status of Dr. Roberts’ leave now as we were just notified of the indictment,” school spokesperson Rebecca Craddock told the Times-News. “Once all affected parties have been notified, we can provide additional information. The school system has been, and continues to be, fully cooperative with the authorities as they move forward with their investigation into these allegations.”

Poteat, whose Twitter account states that he is a former “technology director” as well as a United States Army Vietnam war veteran, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. He is scheduled to go to trial in February of 2016. He remains suspended without pay from the Bristol School system.

Cherith Roberts turned herself in on the child neglect charge on Thursday and was released on a $7,500 bond.

[Featured Photo By Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office]