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FOX 13 Investigates: Iron County teacher who called for killing of Republican senators avoids discipline

Posted at 10:02 PM, Sep 20, 2021

PAROWAN, Utah — After an internal investigation spanning approximately five months, the Iron County School District has decided not to discipline a teacher who publicly wished for Republican senators to be killed.

Brian Townsend published the comments on social media on February 13, 2021.

“I only hope that the next time a president incites a riot at the Capitol, more Republican senators are killed,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

At the time, Townsend was a history teacher at Parowan High School.

Shortly after his message was published, Townsend was placed under paid administrative leave.

By the time he deleted the tweet, the story had already received national and international attention.

According to documented complaints filed with the Iron County School District, people who self-identified as Republicans and Democrats called from across the country to express concern that a “role model for children” would publicly wish death on politicians.

Many of them demanded that Townsend be fired immediately.

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The Iron County School District originally declined to provide copies of investigative records to FOX 13.

After reviewing an appeal filed under Utah’s public records law, Superintendent Lance Hatch overturned the district’s decision to withhold the public documents.

The files supplied to FOX 13 show the district met with Townsend via a recorded Zoom call on March 1, 2021 to discuss his behavior.

“Were you aware that students might see this?” asked Janette Stubbs, the director of human resources for Iron County School District.

“Sure,” Townsend replied. “There’s always a possibility that people can see the things that you tweet.”

Townsend never said the tweet was a joke when given opportunities to explain himself.

“It was in the wake of the Senate’s decision to acquit [President Trump] on the articles of impeachment,” Townsend said. “That was just my response to the — I guess I would say the lack of action taken on part of the Senate to do their sworn Constitutional duty.”

“We just want to check in with you and your family. Are you okay?” Stubbs asked. “Are there things that we can do to support you?”

“It really doesn’t impact me,” Townsend said. “I can handle a lot of heat. I don’t really have that much at stake in terms of myself and my self-image.”

During the meeting, despite the fact that Townsend is an employee of a public school district and receives a taxpayer-funded salary, the district falsely assured Townsend that the results of the investigation would not be shared with the media.

“Hopefully you understand and realize that anything personnel action-wise, that’s all confidential," said Kathleen Cheshire of the Utah Education Association. "Obviously, that won’t be shared with the news.”

“Oh yes, oh no,” agreed Stubbs. “We’re being very very careful to not share anything at all.”

Iron County School District closed the case in July, with no disciplinary action taken.

Parents at Parowan High School said they were never informed of the decision, which they believe was intentionally kept quiet to avoid embarrassment.

“How does he get off with that, when anyone else would be in serious trouble?” asked parent Shauntel Rios. “I just don’t understand how someone can say such harsh things... It’s not something I’m interested in having my child around, period.”

In 2020, Townsend made $91,904.90 in taxpayer-funded salary and benefits.

Although Superintendent Hatch agreed Townsend’s tweet was “a very poor example” and was “threatening,” he defended the district’s decision to not discipline Townsend.

“We hope that our schools are a place where anyone can go and feel comfortable,” Hatch said. “Mr. Townsend is a valued educator in our district. He is certified and capable and qualified to do the job. We believe in him.”

In lieu of discipline, Townsend was moved to a different school in Cedar City.

Townsend now teaches at Youth Health Associates, a treatment center designed to care for kids who have a history of “mental illness.”

According to its website, the treatment center specializes in treating juveniles with a history of “sexual misconduct.”

The facility in Cedar City has approximately 16 students in total, according to the Iron County School District. Hatch said the new opportunity will give Townsend an opportunity to work free of “distractions.”

“The students that he’s working with right now are all from out of the area,” Hatch said. “He is in good standing, and we’re looking forward to him doing a great job... we think he’s the right guy for the position.”

Because Townsend continues to receive his full salary and benefits, Hatch said the transfer does not constitute discipline.

However, the decision was administrative in nature, meaning Townsend did not have a say in the matter.

“Initial reports are that he’s doing well, and so yeah, I don’t know how he feels about it,” Hatch said.

Hatch indicated that if a student were to tweet something similar to Townsend, the case would likely be handled differently pursuant to district policy.

“What if a student tweeted, ‘I hope next time the school board meets that they get killed?’” asked FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

“We make sure that they get the help that they need,” Hatch said, “because clearly there are issues.”

“Did Mr. Townsend get the help that he ‘needs’?” asked Herbets. “Are there ‘clearly issues’ with him?’”

“That’s a good question,” Hatch responded. “I’m not aware of any. Being an adult, he has the ability to seek help as well.”

“Well, now he’s teaching students who are receiving treatment for mental health issues,” Herbets continued. “It sounds like if this were a student, they would be treated for ‘issues.’”

“Yeah,” Hatch said. “I don’t — we are not treating him for any mental health issues.”

Townsend chose not to speak with FOX 13 but offered the following apology in his human resources interview with Iron County School District.

“That was awful judgment on my part,” Townsend said. “I’m very upset that this has gotten to this point... I’m sorry that this has happened.”

When asked by FOX 13 whether he is still “proud” to have Townsend as an employee, Hatch gave the following response.

“I don’t really know him personally, but we are grateful that he has the qualifications — the ability — to help the students that he’s working with,” Hatch said. “At the end of the day, we were facing somebody’s First Amendment rights and our need to balance that with the needs of the school and the district.”

Hatch confirmed Iron County does have a policy that is supposed to stop employees from doing anything that would harm the district, its reputation, or the classroom.

However, the district did not have a social media in February at the time of the tweet.

Hatch said the district is now working to establish a new social media policy, to “hopefully prevent” cases like this from reoccurring.

Lexi Riddle, a graduate of Parowan High School, used to have Townsend as a teacher. She said she feels like the post on Twitter is an example of a bigger problem with his behavior.

“That’s kind of the person he is,” Riddle said. “I felt like he didn’t really care. Honestly, I felt like he didn’t even want to work there... it made you feel like you didn’t even want to have a conversation with him, because he just wanted to outsmart you.”

Multiple parents tell FOX 13 they have filed complaints against Townsend in the past.

In 2020, mother Nikell Judd was arrested on suspicion of punching Townsend in the chest after becoming angry with the way Townsend treated her daughter.

When contacted by FOX 13, Judd said she was too emotional to speak about the incident.

The district has declined to comment on any other complaints filed against Townsend, "should they exist."

FOX 13 has filed a formal request for copies of all documents related to previous complaints or cases and plans to appeal any future denials under Utah’s public records law.

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