An elementary school teacher in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, who was caught on tape attacking skateboarders last June, says his bizarre actions were guided by a higher power.
Last June, Thomas Hammer, 58, was filmed in San Clemente allegedly pushing a skateboarder and dashing off with the boy’s board.
A YouTube video of the incident appears to shows the boy screaming obscenities while Hammer swings the skateboard and tries to throw it over a hedge.
Hammer said the video snippet doesn't tell the whole story, and that he was trying to prevent the boys from what he considered to be serious danger.
“When I stepped in, I felt compelled by a higher power,” Hammer told the Orange County Register. “Honestly, have you ever been grabbed by the Lord in a way you never thought you would or you could? That’s exactly what I’m testifying to, and I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I’m speaking right from the heart.”
Hammer was arrested and charged with felony grand theft and felony assault.
He was also placed on leave from Cielo Vista Elementary, where he taught second grade, until his legal situation was resolved.
Records show he has been employed by the Saddleback Unified School District since 1998.
School principal Beth Ewing told KTLA that school district staff found the video "disturbing." However, when the felony counts were reduced to misdemeanors, Ewing was reinstated to a support role away from interaction with children.
Hammer was back at work on Monday after serving a two-month suspension, but was suspended a second time after parents like Karly Foster complained.
"It's shameful and unacceptable that the district has even gotten to this point, and that he's on our campus in the first place," Foster, a vice president of the school PTA, told KABC-TV. "As parents, we should feel comfortable to send our students to a safe environment."
To protest Hammer's return, 20-25 students didn't come to school on Tuesday. Their parents said they feared he has anger management issue that haven't been addressed.
One parent did suggest giving Hammer a second chance, but the district chose to place him on administrative leave again. Officials weren't specific about the length of the suspension or whether he would be paid, OCWeekly.com reports.