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Judge says East Hall student wrongly charged in fight can return to school. Student ‘scared that people might judge me for something’
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Jhonny Mendez sits in court Tuesday, March 28, 2023, waiting for a bond modification hearing. - photo by Scott Rogers

An East Hall High School student wrongly charged with felony battery will be allowed to return to school after a judge modified his bond conditions on Tuesday. 

“I’m excited (to return to school),” Jhonny David Mendez told The Times in court. “But I’m also scared that people might judge me for something.”

The 18-year-old was charged March 10 with felony battery and misdemeanor affray after being accused of kicking teacher Heather Hawkins in the face during a fight with another student.  

East Hall High Principal Jeff Cooper later admitted they wrongly charged Mendez after The Times published a video of the fight along with a statement from Mendez’s mother saying her son was not the one who kicked Hawkins. Cooper also said Mendez was punched first.

Last week, Cooper met with District Attorney Lee Darragh and asked him to drop Mendez’s charges. Darragh said Tuesday that the decision was still pending. 

The other student was also charged, though his name hasn’t been provided because he’s a juvenile. Cooper said he was charged with misdemeanor battery and affray.

Mendez was jailed a couple days after the fight and released on a $3,500 bond after spending about 10 hours in jail. His bond conditions barred him from returning to East Hall High or having any contact with Hawkins. 

Mendez and his mother Mireyna attended court on Tuesday for a bond modification hearing with the goal of getting Mendez back in school. 

But the hearing was canceled about an hour beforehand after Magistrate Court Judge Michelle Hall granted the defense’s request to waive the bond conditions. 

Mendez’s attorney, Hall County Public Defender Brian Dille, said it was the “best-case scenario,” but added that a hearing would have been useful for getting more information about where the case stands. 

“If there's one part about getting the consent bond amendment that is maybe a downside is that we don’t find out more about what the status of the case is,” Dille said. “But, ultimately, this is the best outcome.” 

Mendez’s mother was worried nonetheless that her son might be arrested if he tries to return to campus. She said he has missed about two weeks of school. 

Cooper told The Times last week that Mendez would be allowed to return to school, though he could not immediately be reached Tuesday afternoon to confirm whether that is still the case. 

Dille said Cooper agreed to attend the hearing before it was canceled without the need for a subpoena.

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Jhonny Mendez sits in court March 28, 2023, waiting for a bond modification hearing. - photo by Scott Rogers