New Jersey

NJ Vice Principal Who Threw Beer in Transphobic Rant Says He Was the One Harassed

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A New Jersey vice principal who threw beer at a group of people who were filming a transphobic rant by his wife and the people who got hit with the beer are accusing each other of harassment.

A municipal court judge in Galloway Township is scheduled on Thursday to examine the case of Michael Smurro, vice principal of Neptune Middle School in Monmouth County, as well as those he accuses of harassing him and his wife, Lisa.

Video filmed by patrons at an outdoor restaurant April 24 in Galloway shows him tossing a cup of beer at a table of people when he and his wife realized they were being recorded.

In an email to The Associated Press days after the incident, Smurro apologized for his actions, and said he should have just walked away from the situation. He did not respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Gina Brunner, administrator of Galloway's municipal court, said Smurro filed harassment complaints against Debra and Robert Harris, and Elaine Nelson, whose hometowns were not immediately available.

Those people have also filed harassment charges against Smurro; all the claims will be the subject of a hearing on Thursday, Brunner said.

A complaint filed by two other people who say they were hit by the beer thrown by Smurro, Carolyn DiPietro and Christopher Benino, was rejected after Municipal Court Judge Howard Freed determined there was not probable cause to sustain the charge.

Video shows a New Jersey middle school principal tossing beer at restaurant patrons who had filmed his wife's rant against a transgender woman who used the woman's restroom. NBC10's Ted Greenberg has the story and video.

“This case is about standing up against bigotry, bullying and violence,” said attorney David Shanies, who represents the Harrises, DiPietro and Benino. “My clients rejected transphobic hate speech, and in response, Michael Smurro doused them in beer, challenged them to a fight and filed false and frivolous criminal charges against them. My clients are not intimidated and they will hold Michael Smurro fully accountable for his actions.”

The footage from the outdoor restaurant shows Lisa Smurro complaining at length about a person she said was a transgender woman using the women’s bathroom. New Jersey law prohibits discrimination based on gender identify and permits people to use public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

The footage shows that when the couple became aware someone was filming, they got up and walked over. Lisa Smurro continued to complain and a woman at the table replied: “Please take your hate elsewhere.”

Michael Smurro then tossed the contents of a cup of beer at occupants of the table.

“Here you go, pal,” he says on the video. “There you go.”

Michael Smurro then takes several steps back and, gesturing toward himself, says, “Now you can come out. I’m right here,” before the couple walks away.

Police were not called and no charges have been filed regarding the incident.

The Neptune school district said it has taken “swift and serious” action in the case, but says it cannot reveal what it was for legal reasons. Superintendent Tami Crader did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but said in a previous email "I realize that the public becomes frustrated with what they perceive is a lack of action or a lack of transparency but I am obligated to maintain confidentiality with regard to all personnel matters."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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