By David Brand
A day after a Ridgewood guidance counselor was charged with allegedly punching a cop while defending an emotionally disturbed student, children and parents at Grover Cleveland High School said they had the school staffer’s back.
Police said a 19-year-old student at Cleveland was acting erratically in the hallways, which prompted someone in the school to call 911. When officers from the Emergency Service Unit (ESU) responded and tried to restrain the student, guidance counselor Phillip Lo Castro interceded and tried to move the student away from the situation, police said.
After an officer tried to separate the counselor and the student, Lo Castro allegedly slapped the officer’s hand. In the ensuing melee, Lo Castro, 37, hit the cop in the face, according to the criminal complaint.
Several Cleveland students commended Lo Castro for trying to “protect” the student, who they say is nicknamed “Jesus.”
“Mr. Lo Castro was just trying to calm him down and the police were being aggressive,” said Bryan, a junior. “This wasn’t the first incident and Lo Castro stood up to try to protect the kid.”
Five students told the Eagle that this was the third time police tried to restrain “Jesus” inside the school.
“I think [Lo Castro] deserves a second chance because what he did for the kid was heroic,” Bryan said.
Sarder, another student, said Lo Castro is his guidance counselor and that he respects how the counselor stood up for a student confronted by the police.
Debbie, a mother dropping her freshman daughter off in front of the school, said she was not surprised by the incident. She said she has noticed a lot of police activity in front of the building, including police officers chasing students down the block.
“The police are extra aggressive here. It’s just the neighborhood,” said Debbie, who declined to give her last name. “These are kids and you have to know what they’re going through. They’re not adults, but they try to treat them like adults.”
Emily, a Cleveland freshman who said she is friends with “Jesus,” also commended Lo Castro for trying to diffuse the situation before things turned ugly.
“Everyone has their little problems and you need to let them be,” Emily said. “[Lo Castro] was trying to help but the police were being extra.”
On Thursday, Department of Education spokesman Doug Cohen told the Eagle that Lo Castro was assisting the student while ESU was called to the Himrod Street school.
Lo Castro was charged with assault, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct. Queens Criminal Court Judge Bruna DiBiase released Lo Castro on his own recognizance on Thursday morning and ordered him back to court on Dec. 5.
“We’ve reassigned him away from the school pending an NYPD investigation. We will continue to cooperate with NYPD as they investigate,” Cohen said.