Felony charges over unsafe conditions, coverup dropped against former Scranton School District officials

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Felony charges originally filed over the unsafe conditions at Scranton School District buildings have been dropped, Eyewitness News has confirmed.

All charges against former Chief Operating Officer Jeff Brazil and Maintenance Foreman Joseph Slack have been dropped.

Alexis Kirijan

Former Superintendent Alexis Kirijan is now facing three misdemeanor charges of recklessly endangering another person. Kirijan was originally facing 28 felony counts of endangering the welfare of children and 23 counts of recklessly endangering another person.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed charges against Brazil, Slack and Kirijan following a grand jury report that found lead levels increased and 90% of the asbestos remained in 2018 and 2019.

In 2016, the district found 298 water sources to have lead, 22 of those having dangerous levels. That required an immediate response. In the same year, 74 spots in 12 buildings required urgent action for asbestos remediation.

“We will be charging each defendant with endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person,” Shapiro said in 2020, after the three were arrested.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, the Office of the Attorney General says that while criminal charges against Brazil and Slack have been dropped they are still continuing their “case on behalf of the public with a focus on the health and safety of Scranton‘s children, educators and families”.

“Our investigation into the Scranton School District’s lead and asbestos contamination is focused on protecting students and staff and preventing these kinds of failures from happening in Pennsylvania again,” the office wrote. “When the Grand Jury began this investigation, the current school district administration became aware of this health emergency for the first time and they have worked quickly to address the lead and asbestos in district facilities.

Our office brought these matters to light even before our investigation was complete because of our responsibility to public health and safety. Risky and drawn out litigation is not the only tool at our Office’s disposal.  Two of our defendants, Mr. Slack and Brazil, have since cooperated with our investigation and provided additional information. It is clear there were significant shortcomings by the former leaders of the school district.

We are not carrying forward criminal charges against these two witnesses and will prudently continue our case on behalf of the public with a focus on the health and safety of Scranton‘s children, educators and families.”

Kirijan’s attorney declined to comment on the case but Slack’s attorney says he is relieved the charges have been dropped.

“I had informed the press when he was charged that day that he was innocent,” Tim Hinton, who represents Slack said. “That he never harmed children, he never placed any children at risk and that we would prove this in this case.”

Hinton says Slack is ready to move forward.

“Mr. Slack is very happy to have this behind him. It’s been a very dark time in his life but it truly made him appreciate his friends and family that were so supportive of him the last nine months,” Hinton said.

He says the charges against Slack pertained to lead levels in the school buildings and alleged Slack did not follow directives to make certain water fountains off limits.

“Even before charges were filed, we had met with the attorney general’s office investigators and informed them that he did in fact do what he was asked to do,” Hinton said.

In a statement, Superintendent of the Scranton School District, Missy McTiernan said “Now that this phase of the investigation is complete, the district can begin to move forward. We would like to thank the attorney general’s office and the Pennsylvania State Police for their efforts and professionalism.”

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