An eastern New York teacher has sued the school district that fired him over online comments he made to a “medium” while playing the game Words With Friends.
The Bedford school district fired 35-year-old Adam Heller following a disciplinary hearing to discuss Sandy Hook conspiracy theories and apparent threats made by the English teacher during the online game, reported The Journal News.
“Due to an apparent mental illness, it would create an undue risk to the safety of the students and faculty of the Bedford Central School District if you were permitted to return to your duties,” said Superintendent Jere Hochman.
Court documents show Heller legally purchased a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun on Dec. 13, 2012, and returned to the same store to buy a Russian military rifle Dec. 14, 2012 – the same day Adam Lanza massacred 20 elementary school children and six adults about 20 miles away at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The lawsuit claims Heller had practiced marksmanship while active in the Boy Scouts and had “observed the gun culture” during a recent visit to the western U.S. and decided to purchase his own weapon.
Heller began having online conversations that same month about government conspiracies with Georgia O’Connor, who is described in court documents as a “medium.”
The teacher told the medium he feared the government might use technology to control weather patterns, court documents show, along with conversations about other nationwide government conspiracies.
Heller received a third firearm, a .22 caliber rifle, from a friend about a month after the Sandy Hook shootings, and the medium contacted the FBI out of concern for his well being.
“He never brought these guns to school or ever intended to do so,” the suit claims.
Federal authorities then communicated those concerns with Bedford police, who alerted the school superintendent.
Police in Beford and Pound Ridge, where Heller lives, began monitoring the teacher while he was working and online.
Officers followed Heller from school Jan. 18, 2013, to a gun store in Carmel, where he asked about buying another .22 caliber rifle, with a removable barrel, that he planned to use for small game hunting.
The gun shop salesperson told Heller the gun would soon be illegal to purchase because it used a 10-round clip, but the teacher decided not to buy it.
Police pulled him over on his way home and asked to speak with Heller at his house.
Heller told police he was not carrying any weapons and allowed them to search him and his car, the suit claims.
The teacher’s lawsuit claims about eight law enforcement officers were already at his home, and he was questioned about his online activities and behavior.
Officers noted that Heller had stopped going to the gym and had become less social at school, and they asked if he had been suicidal – which the teacher denied.
Heller then was taken to Westchester Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Unit, where he was diagnosed with a fast pulse and taken to the emergency room for treatment.
He remained for five days at the hospital and was then “involuntarily committed” to the behavioral health unit, where he was evaluated for another five days before he was discharged and cleared to return Feb. 11, 2013, to work.
The school district ordered him to undergo further psychiatric evaluations and began disciplinary proceedings in June.
School officials claimed in the charging documents that Heller had failed to cooperate with the investigation into his mental fitness by making knowingly false statements to doctors.
“(Doctors were) unable to determine whether Mr. Heller presents a risk to others because Mr. Heller failed to cooperate with the evaluation and, thus, it must be assumed that Mr. Heller presents such a risk,” school officials said.
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