Guidance counselor appealing peeping sentence — (The Helena Independent Record)

SSRI Ed note: School guidance counsellor on Paxil "peeps" with camera into home of student, is charged, appeals, claims medication to blame.

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The Helena Independent Record

Apr 7, 2007

By The Associated Press – 04/07/07

BILLINGS (AP) ­ A middle school guidance counselor who was given 30 days in jail after police caught him standing on a child’s desk, holding a video camera and peeping into the home of a former student, is appealing his sentence.

Paul Patek, 39, pleaded no contest in February to misdemeanor charges of prowling and surreptitious visual observation.

Attorney Terry Seiffert filed an appeal in District Court on Patek’s behalf on March 23. Seiffert claims the 30-day sentenced imposed by a Billings Municipal Court judge was illegal.

The appeal alleges Judge Mary Jane Knisely failed to consider that Patek suffered side effects from an antidepressant medication when she sentenced him on Feb. 15.

The appeal also claims that Knisely violated state sentencing standards by considering Patek’s “social and economic status,” and that she failed to give him credit for the five days he had already spent in jail.

The appeal has been assigned to District Judge Ingrid Gustafson, who set a May 14 deadline for briefs in the case. Gustafson will issue an opinion sometime later.

Describing the crimes as “extremely disturbing,” Knisely sentenced the Will James Middle School guidance counselor to six months in the county jail with all but 30 days suspended on the surreptitious observation charge.

The judge added a six-month suspended jail sentence for the prowling charge, and she ordered Patek to follow treatment recommendations from a psychosexual evaluation.

Patek began serving the 30-day jail sentence immediately, but he was released the next day when Knisely agreed to stay the sentence while the case was under appeal.

The charges stemmed from an incident last Oct. 3.

A woman called police to report that a man was prowling outside her home. Officers arrested Patek when they found him with a video camera standing on a child’s desk outside the woman’s bathroom window. One of the woman’s children was a former student of Patek.

Patek has been on paid leave from his job since his arrest. Superintendent Jack Copps said Friday that a decision regarding his employment is expected soon.

In the appeal, Seiffert said Patek had been treated for depression before the incident and was prescribed the antidepressant medication Paxil. On the day of the incident, Patek took an extra dose of the medication after learning of his grandmother’s death.

A Billings doctor examined Patek after his arrest and determined that he may have suffered “mild Paxil akithisia,” a side effect of the drug that can cause “extreme agitation, loss of impulse control and uncomfortable internal sensations.”

The appeal says the side effects and depression were mitigating factors that Knisely “blatantly and illegally ignored.”

Seiffert also argues in the appeal that the sentence was too harsh for Patek’s “two very minor offenses,” and was “specifically directed to the defendant’s social or economic status.”

Knisely could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.