Janitor pleads no contest

Soroco school employee had run-in with students


— A Soroco School District janitor pleaded no contest to third-degree assault stemming from an incident that involved four middle school students in February.

Chris Neil, 49, entered the plea to the misdemeanor in a soft voice Wednesday morning in Routt County Judge James Garrecht's courtroom.

The no contest plea is, in effect, the same as a guilty plea.

Neil pleaded to the charge in return for a deferred sentence, meaning the conviction will be cleared from his record in a year if he complies with his probation.

Because of the plea, Neil was sentenced to one year of supervised probation and ordered to perform 12 hours of community service.

Neil was also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation. He also must pay $420 in probation costs and $138 in court fees.

If Neil violates his probation, in which he is to stay out of trouble with the law except for minor traffic violations, he will be looking at a jail sentence, Garrecht said.

Third-degree assault carries a punishment of two years in the Routt County Jail and a fine of as much as $5,000.

Currently, Neil is on paid administrative leave from the school district.

At this time, his future employment with the district is not known.

"It will be up to Mr. Neil, the school and the parents," Garrecht said of Neil's job status.

However, Neil would like to return to work, said his attorney, James Horner.

Soroco Superintendent Steve Jones could not comment on Neil's job status.

Neil was placed on leave Feb. 9, which is the day the incident occurred.

The 15-year veteran was apparently upset with the middle school students after toilets in a high school bathroom were purposely clogged with pencils.

The students, who deny committing the vandalism, were in the bathroom when Neil came in and ordered them out.

Court records show Neil shoved a 14-year-old boy into a wall, grabbed a 13-year-old boy by the neck and pushed two 13-year-old boys out of the bathroom.

Neil also harassed a 13-year-old boy, who was walking into the bathroom at the time the janitor was ordering the other boys out.

Initially, Neil was charged with four counts of third-degree assault and one count of harassment.

All the charges, except for one he entered a plea to, were dismissed because of a plea agreement negotiated by Horner and Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Wittemyer.

Laurie Anderson, who is the mother of one of the victims, was satisfied with Wednesday's development.

"The judgment is fine with me," Anderson said.

"We don't want him fired. For all the years he has worked in the district, he has been great with the kids."

If Neil does return to work, Anderson hopes he will have limited contact with the students.

"I would not mind if he worked in the late afternoons and into the evening, so he is not in constant contact with the students," she said.

Horner called the incident "unfortunate."

Anderson characterized the incident as a good person who snapped.

"He basically is a good guy," she said.

Anderson is hopeful the mental health evaluation will examine if Neil has a bad temper.

"I think he needs to take anger-management classes," she said.

Anderson is also hopeful Neil will apologize to the boys and their families for the incident.

Because of Neil's absence, the Soroco School District has had to pay him his salary as well as hire an additional employee.

A part-time employee, who assisted Neil, is now working full time and another person was hired to fill the part-time position.


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