Child abuse charges filed against Indianola principal for school paddlings

Gary Gunckel

Two felony charges of child abuse by injury were filed Friday against Gary L. Gunckel, who is the principal at Indianola Public Schools.

Gunckel, 50, is charged with committing the two counts of child abuse by injury in connection with a paddling given to two Indianola elementary school students, ages 10 and 11, on Sept. 6, 2018. The charge accuses Gunckel of "using unreasonable force" on the two students by spanking them with a wooden paddle.

District 18 District Attorney Chuck Sullivan said Friday that he expected to Gunckel to turn himself in for an initial court appearance at the Pittsburg County Courthouse.

Indianola Public Schools Superintendent Adam Newman did not immediately return a phone call regarding the matter.

Gunckel has also served as a coach in Indianola. Before he came to Indianola, he was a coach and teacher at Hilldale in Muskogee.

A probable cause affidavit for an arrest warrant states that Pittsburg County Sheriff's Deputy Cody Vaughn was contacted the evening of Sept. 8 by a parent of one of the students who wanted speak with him in reference to her child being given swats at school. Vaughn said the parent told him her child had been involved in an argument with another boy from school that included several threats while they were at school.

She told the deputy that she spoke with Principal Gary Gunckel and had given Gunckel permission to give her her son swats. She said the child received two swats.

The parent told the officer her son got out of the shower that evening after the paddling complaining that his bottom hurt. The parent told the officer she observed bruising with whelps on her son's buttocks. She said she felt the bruising was excessive and spoke with her husband about it, the affidavit states.

She also said she was contacted that same evening by the mother of the other child who had received swats in connection with the incident, and she was told that child had bruising on his buttocks as well, according to the affidavit.

The parent who first spoke with Deputy Vaughn said she had gone to Superintendent Newman in regard to her concern over the bruising the boys received after the swats and she was told the superintendent had already spoken to Gunckel, who assured him he had abided by policy regarding the swats, the affidavit continues.

She told the deputy she had received a phone call from Newman and Gunckel that evening with Gunckel apologizing "for busting the boys," according to allegations in court documents.

The parent said that "Gary told her he spanked the boys the same way he spanked high school students," according to allegations in the probable cause affidavit.

She also told the deputy that she had spoken with the parent of the other boy again and that they agreed they needed to make a report regarding the incident to protect their children and others from this happening in the future, court documents state.

She told the officer that her son was extremely distraught over the swats. She also told the officer that another student had told her that she knew a boy who said he carried a knife and he threatened to stab the parent's son if he continued to be mean to another girl, the affidavit continues.

Vaughn said he requested a copy of photographs that had been taken and a statement from the parent regarding the entire incident.

"Upon review of the photographs I could see over the course of four days the redness turn to bruising" the deputy said in the probable cause affidavit.

In photographs taken on the day of the paddling, Vaughn said he could see swelling to the child's left buttocks cheek with raised whelps and blotchiness in the redness. Photographs taken the following day showed redness with light bruising, he continued. Photographs taken Sept. 8 showed a darker bruising consistent with the injury healing, the deputy continued in the affidavit.

"The photographs taken Sept. 9 were of a lighter bruised area covering and approximate two-inch by two-inch area," he said.

Vaughn said he spoke with the parent of the other child on Sept. 8 and she also said she had given permission for her child to receive swats for some fighting and arguing that had been going on between the two boys.

That parent said when her child got home from school that day, she noticed that he appeared to have trouble sitting or standing. She said when she asked him what was wrong she learned that her son had bruising on his buttocks.

She said "the bruising was already extremely bad and she was instantly angry with how far the punishment had gone," the affidavit states. After photographs of the injury were forwarded to Superintendent Newman, he contacted her later that evening and said he had already spoken with Gunckel and Gunckel had apologized for leaving bruises on her child like that, according to allegations in the affidavit.

The mother said the superintendent told her that her child had received three swats and he had fallen down on the first one, the affidavit alleges. She said she was then told that Gunckel had allowed her son to calm down before receiving the other two swats and that a school secretary was present for the swats, the affidavit continues.

She told the deputy she spoke with Gunckel on Sept. 7 and "he apologized to her for the bruising to her son and it was standard punishment," the affidavit alleged. She also told the deputy that Gunckel had told her he was sorry her son bruised easily and he jumped around and fell to the ground, according to the affidavit.

The mother said she was told her son got back up and that Gunckel "gave him the other two swats and explained that they were supposed to hurt so that he would remember not to do what he was doing anymore," the affidavit alleges.

According to the affidavit, the two mothers spoke with each other again and decided to report the matter.

Vaughn said in the affidavit that he also looked at photographs of the second child's injuries and that a Sept. 6 photo received from the mother showed the child's buttocks with a large red mark, with onset bruising covering both cheeks. A photo from Sept. 7 showed a darker bruise covering both cheeks "and even some bruising on the spine area and tailbone," the deputy said in the affidavit. A photo from Sept. 8 showed darker bruising covering the same areas that appeared to be healing, he said.

The second mother to speak with the deputy also said she had been told that the husband of the first mother had grabbed her (the second mother) child's arm while at the school on Sept. 6.

However, witnesses, including the son of the second mother, said his arm had not been grabbed and that the father of the other boy had simply told him not to speak to his child again, to which the boy said "Yes sir."

Vaughn said he contacted the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and requested a joint response regarding the paddling incident so interviews could be conducted with those involved. However, he said DHS notified him that the agency didn't investigate matters involving schools and that law enforcement would be the primary investigating agency.

The deputy said he went to Indianola schools and he spoke with the secretary. Vaughn said he asked the secretary if one of the boys was knocked to the ground with the swats and she said that he was not, according to the affidavit.

Vaughn said in the affidavit that he also asked the secretary if she felt like there was anything excessive with the swats and she stated that the swats weren't anything out of the ordinary.

The deputy said he spoke with Gunckel and read him the statement of his Miranda warning "and he stated that he would like to have his attorney present. He said Gunckel also provided him with a name and number for his attorney.

Vaughn said he contacted the attorney, who is not identified in court documents, on Sept. 12 and asked that the school voluntarily supply him with the paddle that was used for the swats, permission slips signed by the parents allowing the swats to be given and the policy outlining disciplinary actions.

"The attorney told me that he would speak with the school and contact me when he was able to make the items available to me," Vaughn said in the affidavit.

He said as of Sept. 13, he had not been contacted by the attorney. The affidavit was stamped Sept. 21, according to a notary's seal.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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