Victim’s parents speaking out against WB-RC board member, teachers
Say support for teacher convicted of sex crimes was a ‘slap in the face’
WEST BRANCH — When John and Lori Janczewski attended the sentencing for former Rose City teacher Neal Erickson July 10 who pleaded guilty to first degree CSC against their son, they thought they would finally receive some closure.
But at that sentencing, they found several current West Branch-Rose City teachers, as well as a current board member, seemingly showing their support of Erickson. And it was there they also learned of 10 letters supporting him that were given to Judge Michael Baumgartner, several of which were written by current teachers in the district.
“My wife and I are sick and sad at the support they gave a CSC 1 child molester,” John Janczewski told the Herald in an interview July 18. “We’re very angry. We’re happy with the sentence (Erickson) got. But we’re very angry and not happy with the support of a board member and retired teacher. The message they’re sending our kids is it’s OK to molest a child, I believe, or that they’ll turn an eye to it.”
The board member John Janczewski speaks of is Mike Eagan, who attended the sentencing and sat with Erickson’s family. The Janczewskis attended the July 16 West Branch-Rose City school board meeting to share their displeasure with the board about Mike Eagan’s support.
Mike Eagan told the Herald July 18 that he was supporting Erickson’s family, not Erickson himself.
“I was not there to support Neal Erickson,” Mike Eagan said in a phone interview. “Neal Erickson’s actions were wrong. They are wrong. He broke the law. He is being punished. And I do not support any of the actions that he did. I support his family in their time of troubles. And I feel bad for the victim’s family. They’ve gone through a horrible time.”
Mike Eagan said he does not support child abuse.
“I’ve been friends with the family for a long time, and I’m not supporting child abuse,” he said. “I’m there to support the family. Neal was accused of a crime, and he confessed to that crime. He was convicted, and he is serving his time for that crime.”
Mike Eagan said he considers the issue over.
“I see the issue as done at this point,” he said. “There’s nothing anyone can do in this whole issue. The judge has decided and our laws have spoken. And this is what’s happened.”
When asked whether, if he could go back in time, he would still show the same support for the family as he did July 10, Mike Eagan said he’d rather stop the crime.
“If we have the pleasure of going back in time, I’d rather go back seven years and stop this event before it ever happened,” he said. “I don’t want to go back a week. I want to go back seven years. If we’re going to speculate whether we could do things again, that’s where I’d want to go.”
“I don’t know what I would do,” Mike Eagan added. “I still am in a situation that I’m supporting the family. They need support too. Everybody needs support, because this was a tragic happening.”
But that isn’t good enough for the Janczewskis. John Janczewski said a petition has been started online with people calling for Mike Eagan’s resignation, and he plans to file recall language with the Ogemaw County clerk.
“We’re sick to our stomach,” he said. “Heartbroken. My wife is a parapro level three at Rose City. She worked with all these teachers. She felt backstabbed. We were sick to our stomachs to see them (at the sentencing).”
The Herald, through the Freedom of Information Act, obtained the letters of support for Erickson, written by Toni Erickson, Carol Rau, Sally Campbell, Amy Huber Eagan, Harriett Coe, Marilyn Glover, Sandi Lee, Kathryn Weber, Kathleen Sheel and Kathleen Palmer. Most asked for a reduced sentence.
“Neal made a mistake,” writes Campbell in her letter. “He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake and ended it years before someone anonymously sent something to the authorities which began this legal process.”
“I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all the circumstances surrounding this case,” writes Amy Huber Eagan. “I am also hoping that he can stay remanded to custody in the Ogemaw County Jail and not be sent to a prison facility. My advice would be to use him! He is a certified teacher and could be used for tutoring in the jail, running a GED program, or assisting in whatever education related programs there is need for. Allow him to share his knowledge and skills in a useful, viable, and meaningful way.”
“Neal has plead (sic) guilty for his one criminal offense but he is not a predator,” writes Coe. “This was an isolated incident. He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends. He has been candid and conveyed his action to his family, friends and co-workers.”
Baumgartner said at the sentencing that he couldn’t believe the support for Erickson.
“I’m appalled and ashamed that the community could rally around, in this case, you,” he said.
“What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher,” Baumgartner added.
WB-RC Superintendent Dan Cwayna told the Herald July 19 that because the issue was a personnel matter, he couldn’t comment on it. But he said the district is looking into it.
“The district is consulting with our school attorney to determine if the letters are protected by the first amendment,” Cwayna said. “That’s really all I can say right now. Until we consult our school attorneys, I really can’t say much at this point.”
John Janczewski said teachers in the district should not have shown their support in public.
“None of it’s right,” he said. “None of them teachers should have been there. They should have been in the middle (of the courtroom) or showed some support (to the victim’s family). There is only one person that’s a victim and that’s my son. What kind of message do we send to the community, to the parents and students, by them being there and supporting this?”
Although Erickson is serving his sentence, in John Janczewski’s eyes, the matter is not finished.
“We will not stop until the end,” John Janczewski said. “We will not give up on this. We will not stop.”