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Coach freed, father jailed
Judge reduces charge against Spotsylvania coach to misdemeanor; Ni River football player's father jailed for punching coach after he 'drop-kicked' 12-year-old boy

Date published: 1/31/2013


The Ni River Middle School volunteer coach who "drop-kicked" a seventh-grader will serve no time behind bars, but the boy's father--who punched the coach in response--was ordered Wednesday to spend a day in jail.

Juvenile Court Judge Phillip U. Fines reduced the charge against coach Joseph Bernard Hart from a felony to a misdemeanor at the request of defense attorney Mark Gardner.

Wednesday's hearing dealt with the felony charge against Hart, 21, and the misdemeanor assault and battery charge against Maurice Smith, 43, at the request of Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney John C. Bowers.

Hart had faced up to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine if convicted of felony cruelty and injuries to a child.

The charge reflects that Hart, as a volunteer coach with the Spotsylvania County school, was in a custodial relationship with 12-year-old Devon Smith at the time of the incident.

Devon and three other boys on the Ni River football team testified Wednesday that Hart "drop-kicked" Devon while he was standing on the sidelines at football practice on Oct. 16.

They testified that it was without provocation and Devon didn't know it was coming.

Devon, who at the time was 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 90 pounds, testified that someone tapped him on the shoulder and he turned to see Hart running at him.

Hart--who has a stocky build--flew through the air with both legs raised and struck him in the chest with both feet.

"I flew back in the air and my feet left the ground and I don't remember when I hit the ground," Devon testified.

He said he passed out and when he came to, he "couldn't breathe and my chest was in severe pain."

Devon said no one rendered aid to him. His parents took him to the emergency room after practice, where he underwent several tests and received pain medication.

Teammates James Malone, Carter Searcy and Justin Curran testified Wednesday that Hart was known for "horseplay" and that they didn't think Devon passed out, but was hurt and had the wind knocked out of him.

They had heard Hart speak before about "drop-kicking" someone but he had never done it.

Ni River Principal Veronne Davis said she spoke to Hart twice after the incident and that he didn't think Devon was hit hard.

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