Assistant principal says former teacher pursued him

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman Lee

Salisbury Post

A student walked into Assistant Principal Chris Boylan’s office at Salisbury High School and handed him a note.

That note basically asked Boylan if he wanted to go out sometime. It was signed, “L.M.”

The next day, Laurie Mendiola came to Boylan’s office and asked him if he had received her note. She also asked him what he thought about the two of them going out.

“I said I didn’t think it was a good idea,” Boylan testified Wednesday in the trial involving Mendiola and former West Rowan Middle School Principal Tony Helms.

Mendiola is suing Helms and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, saying Helms forced her into an affair and school officials didn’t do anything about it.

Boylan testified that when Mendiola asked him why the two couldn’t go out, he said, “Well, one reason I wouldn’t go out with you is, I’m your boss.”

He also asked her if she was living with Salisbury High’s masonry teacher, Tom Gillespie.

“Yes, but there is no love there,” Boylan said Mendiola replied.

Boylan said the same student delivered another note to him the next day, again signed “L.M.”

The note said, “I’m surprised that you, being a Christian, that you would be so judgmental,” Boylan testified.

Mendiola came into Boylan’s office again and asked why they couldn’t date, he testified. He repeated that he was her boss and also said he considered the man she was living with a good guy.

“I don’t want to do that,” Boylan recalled saying. “I just don’t think it’s right.”

After Mendiola resigned her teaching position at Salisbury High, Boylan said she approached him for the third time.

“I don’t work here anymore. Can we go out now?” Boylan said Mendiola asked.

He said “no” and told her he was dating someone else.

B. Ervin Brown, Mendiola’s attorney, asked Superior Court Judge Kimberly Taylor to prevent the jury from hearing Boylan’s testimony.

Brown contended the incident with Boylan didn’t have anything to do with her affair with Helms.

Ken Soo, one of the school board’s attorneys, argued, however, that Mendiola’s expert witnesses had tried to portray her as uniquely susceptible to being victimized by those in authority. The incident with Boylan contradicted that, Soo said.

Before the trial began, Mendiola’s attorney asked the judge not to allow testimony about any of Mendiola’s previous relationships.

At the time, Taylor didn’t rule on the motion, saying she needed to hear evidence first and would rule on a case-by-case basis.

She ruled Tuesday that the jury should hear from Boylan.

The jury also heard testimony from Crystal Johnstone, Mendiola’s hair stylist.

She testified that Mendiola made four appointments with her in 2003 and two in 2004.

During one of Mendiola’s earlier visits, in 2003, “She told me that she was involved with a married guy,” Johnstone testified.

Mendiola didn’t say who at the time, Johnstone said.

Mendiola made two appointments in December of 2003 and Johnstone testified that during one of those, Mendiola told her who she was having an affair.

“She said it was the principal at the school she was teaching at,” Johnstone said.

Johnstone said the two discussed that Helms was married. She said Mendiola told her she knew the affair was wrong, but his wife was sick and the two were waiting for her to pass away.

“She said that she had strong feelings for him,” Johnstone testified.

Soo asked Johnstone about Mendiola’s mood when she came in to the salon.

“She was very happy,” Johnstone said.

Soo asked what else Mendiola told her about her affair with Helms.

“She spoke of times that they fooled around in his office,” she said.

When Mendiola came back to have her hair styled in April of 2004, Johnstone testified that she noticed she was pregnant.

She said she joked with Mendiola about who the baby’s father was and, “That’s when she said it was Tony’s.”

Johnstone testified that Mendiola never told her that Helms was mistreating her and she was always in a happy, laughing mood.

Mendiola became noticeably agitated during the next witness’ testimony.

Davina Stewart, a teacher at West Middle, took the stand. Soo asked her how she knew Mendiola.

Stewart replied that Mendiola was an inclusion teacher in her classroom. As an inclusion teacher, Mendiola was supposed to give extra support to exceptional children in the class.

Soo asked her about Mendiola’s job performance. Stewart said that on most occasions, Mendiola would come in, sit near the door, read a newspaper, drink a cup of coffee and balance her checkbook.

After that testimony, Mendiola made a noise of disgust and sat back in her chair.

Stewart also testified that the she and Mendiola were walking toward the teachers’ lounge one day.

“I was going to get a drink,” Stewart said.

As Stewart was going to the lounge she said she saw Mendiola go into Helms’ top right desk drawer and take out a change purse.

West Rowan Middle School’s resource officer, Rowan County Sheriff’s Deputy Christine Brown, testified that she saw Mendiola in Helms’ office on several occasions.

One one day she had her feet propped up on Helms’ desk, Christine Brown said.

“On another occasion I saw her sitting on the desk,” she testified.

Mendiola was going to see Helms, but he had someone else in his office and the door was closed, Christine Brown said. Mendiola instead came into Brown’s office and started small talk, she testified.

In general conversation, Christine Brown said she asked Mendiola if the father of her baby ever gave her support financially or visited the child.

“She just burst out laughing,” Christine Brown said.

She said she couldn’t understand what was so funny.

“I’m going to tell you something,” Christine Brown testified Mendiola told her.

She said Mendiola told her that she really trusted her and that she was going to tell her who her baby’s father was.

“I said, ‘No, you really don’t have to tell me,’ ” Christine Brown testified.

Mendiola asked her not to tell anyone, she said.

She said she told her again that she really didn’t have to tell her anything.

“She said you’re going to be shocked two or three times,” Christine Brown testified.

Mendiola then pointed at Helms’ office door and said, “He’s the father,” Brown said.

Kathleen Tanner, school board attorney, asked Christine Brown why she hadn’t told anyone that Helms was the father.

“She had told me not to,” Christine Brown replied.

If Mendiola had told you Helms was mistreating her, what would you have done? Tanner asked Brown.

“I would have filed a report,” she replied.

Mike Wheeler, a math teacher at West Rowan Middle, testified that he arrived at school one Friday and saw Mendiola wearing jeans.

He made the comment to her that Helms said at the last staff meeting that teachers weren’t allowed to dress casually on Fridays anymore.

“She said, ‘Well, I’ll see to that,’ ” Wheeler testified.

“Five minutes later (Helms) made an announcement that Friday would be dress-down day,” he said.

Wheeler also testified that teachers were required to stay with their students in the cafeteria during lunch. At times Mendiola wasn’t with her students, he said.

“She told me that she had permission to go out at lunch for a smoke break,” Wheeler said.

Soo asked him who Mendiola said had given her that permission.

“Mr. Helms,” he replied.

During cross-examination, Brown questioned Wheeler about his intent when he told Mendiola she couldn’t wear jeans.

He said he wasn’t sure if she knew about the new rule and didn’t want her to get into trouble.

Brown started asking him if anyone appointed him “jeans police” and the two were talking back and forth about his intentions.

“Don’t argue with the witness,” Taylor told Brown.

Brown started to argue with Judge Taylor about what he was asking Wheeler.

“Don’t argue with the witness and don’t argue with me, either,” she told Brown forcefully.

During attorneys’ questions, Nancy Brawley, the chairperson of the exceptional children’s department at West Middle, testified she had concerns about Mendiola’s work.

She said the paperwork Mendiola was required to fill out for children in her classroom wasn’t getting done correctly or on time.

She said she talked to Assistant Principal Shelia Jenkins about the problem and went to Helms, as well, although she didn’t feel comfortable discussing the matter with him.

Tanner asked her why she didn’t feel comfortable talking with Helms.

“Because I knew they were having an affair,” Brawley replied.

Brawley testified that she knew the two were having an affair because Mendiola told her. She said Mendiola frequently made references to sexual liaisons with Helms and talked about Helms’ wife, Judy, as well.

“I wish she would just hurry up and die,” Brawley testified that Mendiola told her.

She also said she specifically remembered Mendiola telling her she hoped she and Helms would be together one day.

Brawley said she complimented Mendiola on a pair of earrings she was wearing when she saw her in the hallway one day at school.

Mendiola told her Helms had given her the earrings and she had a necklace to match at home. The earrings were a post style with an ice blue stone and a diamond, Brawley said.

When Mendiola testified last week, Helms’ attorney, Todd Paris, asked if she ever showed Nancy Brawley jewelry Helms gave her.

“I don’t recall ever doing that,” Mendiola said.

She continued to testify that she never would have shown Brawley any gifts from Helms because she never wore the things he gave her.

Others called to testify Wednesday included:

* Shelia Jenkins, former West Rowan Middle School assistant principal.

* Kathy Gore, former counselor at West Rowan Middle.

* Gail Lowe, West Rowan Middle School teacher.

* Alice Weaver, West Rowan Middle School financial secretary.

* Suzette Pritchard, exceptional children’s support teacher for the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or