Former Chicago Public Schools principal Kurt Jones smokes a cigarette with supporters outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Tuesday afternoon, July 20, 2021. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Witnesses testified they saw Kurt Jones throw the bottle at Faye Jenkins last year at a North Side school. Jones’ attorney said the incident was just a game and vigorously denied it was a criminal act.
A Chicago Public Schools employee testified in Cook County criminal court Tuesday that she grew numb and was in pain after her school’s principal whipped a water bottle at her head last year, causing an injury that she says gave her a concussion and an open wound and forced her to go on leave.
“I was hollering and screaming,” school cafeteria manager Faye Jenkins said at the trial of former Franklin Elementary Fine Arts Center Principal Kurt Jones. “I was just numb. The hit was tremendously hard.
“I was in pain. … I just didn’t understand.”
Jenkins testified for about three hours Tuesday in the trial for Jones, who faces felony charges of aggravated battery of a school employee and two counts of aggravated battery causing bodily harm. Jones, who wiped tears from his eyes during the trial Tuesday, waived his right to a jury trial, meaning his fate is in the hands of Cook County Circuit Court Judge Ursula Walowski.
CPS ousted Jones last year after district investigators found several allegations of wrongdoing through his tenure at Franklin that officials deemed “indefensibly unprofessional and unsafe.”
The incident that was the subject of the trial Tuesday took place on March 20, 2020 at Franklin on the North Side.
It was an unusual day at Franklin because the COVID pandemic had just begun, Assistant State’s Attorney Maha Gardner said in her opening remarks. The school had closed days earlier, but Jenkins and a small group of employees were working as a skeleton crew.
She said Jones came into the lunchroom and suggested playing “dodgeball.” Without anyone agreeing to play, he began picking up items and throwing food and objects, Gardner said.
Jenkins continued working, putting food away that had been used for to-go meals for CPS families, she said.
“A few moments later this defendant walked into the room and continued to throw objects” — including a shoe and then a water bottle — “striking her in the face,” Gardner said.
Lunchroom assistant DeBrianna Harris saw Jones throw the shoe and bottle at Jenkins — and said he aimed for her as she was bending over.
“He threw it intentionally down,” Harris said. Security guard Ariel Hernandez said he didn’t see the water bottle get thrown but said he later heard Jones say he “f’ed up, he f’ed up.”
Hernandez said others in the group had played along with Jones — he had also thrown fruit — but said it was clear Jenkins had not wanted to play.
Jenkins also teared up in the courtroom as she described getting hit with the bottle above her eye.
“The blood was just coming out,” Jenkins said. “I was hit. … My glasses went inside my nose and I had a cut on my eye.” The blood “was coming from my nose and my eye.”
Harris said Jones apologized repeatedly — and started crying. Jenkins was also crying, Harris said. “She was upset.”
Jenkins, Harris and Hernandez went to the 18th District police station, where Jenkins continued to bleed, to report the incident, then to an urgent care clinic.
Gardner said the case comes down to the fact Jones “made physical contact with Fay Jenkins and caused her bodily harm and knew she was an employee.”
Jenkins repeatedly said she didn’t want to take part in “dodgeball.”
“This is a man who is chasing his adult employees around the building,” Gardner said.
“We’re not saying he committed the crime of the century. But is it a crime? It is.”
Jones’ attorney, Jim McKay, centered the ex-principal’s defense on claims that Jenkins — who this year filed a civil lawsuit against Jones and CPS — played up the incident and her injuries in hopes for a pay day. McKay, a high-profile criminal defense lawyer, argued Jenkins’s injuries happened during a playful game and were an accident: “I cut myself shaving worse,” he said.
“Kurt Jones doesn’t belong here,” McKay said. “This is a criminal courtroom, Kurt Jones does not belong in a criminal courtroom.”
McKay pointed to social media posts by Jenkins in which she said she would become rich this year, and he claimed she bullied a co-worker who didn’t back her account of the incident. McKay accused Jenkins of speaking with a Sun-Times reporter for a story before talking to a CPS investigator in an effort to “spin this to make some money.”
“She’s got dollar signs in her eyes,” he said, though he never argued that Jones didn’t throw the bottle that hit Jenkins.
Jenkins denied name-calling the co-worker who said the incident was an accident, and she said the social media posts were part of an online game.
“Did you arrange for this to happen to your face somehow so that you could win a million dollars?” Gardner asked Jenkins.
“No,” she responded.
Late Tuesday Walowski rejected McKay’s attempt to have the case dismissed after prosecutors rested their case and continued the trial until July 28.