A 29-year-old Pittsburgh woman is accused of following her daughter’s teacher home from school, pulling her out of her car and then assaulting her, including with a brick, in an incident authorities have called “horrifying.”
Daishonta Williams was arrested on charges including aggravated assault in the October 19 beating of 46-year-old Janice Davis Watkins, Pittsburgh Police said in a press release.
Williams was upset over the way the school handled an earlier incident, in which the teacher took her daughter’s cell phone away. Watkins said the 10-year-old girl bit her, while the girl is accusing her teacher of choking her, according to police.
“If somebody put their hands on your child, what would you do? I didn’t technically follow her out the school. I waited for her to pull out and I followed her to the stop light, Williams told WPXI-TV. “I’m not denying that my daughter bit her, but my daughter would never attack someone unless she felt threatened. I regret the way I went about the situation, but as a mother, you’re not going to put your hands around my child’s neck.”
Watkins, a teacher at Pittsburgh’s Martin Luther King Jr. PreK-8 School on the city’s North Side, suffered a lacerated lip and had a tooth knocked out, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
In a statement, a school district spokesperson said officials are “deeply troubled” by what happened during the attack on the West End Bridge.
“Violence of any kind against a PPS staff member or citizen is unacceptable, and the individuals responsible must be held accountable for such horrifying behavior,” the statement said. “We know the individuals involved in yesterday’s incident do not represent the many great parents and families who choose the Pittsburgh Public Schools for the education of their children, and we look to our families to continue to support and work collaboratively with our teachers and staff.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Williams, Whose Daughter Accused the Teacher of Choking Her, Told the Teacher She Would ‘Get It Later’ While Leaving a Meeting
The incident began with a disciplinary meeting at the King PreK-8 school between Daishonta Williams, the mother of a 4th grade student, and staff, including Janice Watkins. According to court documents, Watkins claimed Williams’ 10-year-old daughter had bit her during an altercation over a cell phone, which Watkins took from the student. The girl told Williams that Watkins had choked her during the incident.
According to police, Williams “became very upset of how the school was handling the incident and left the school.” She told Watkins “she is going to get it later,” the teacher told police.
Williams told police that she filed a police report against Watkins before the attack occurred. She said “she had been upset because she believed that the School Police was not taking the appropriate action for the assault on her daughter. (Williams) also stated that she believed the teacher, Janice Watkins, should be charged criminally for choking her daughter.”
The school district has a no cell phone policy for students, according to officials, and teachers have the discretion to take devices away.
“There was another teacher who was trying to get the cell phone. The little girl ran away from her, and my wife was run into and grabbed the phone off of the little girl, saying that she was going to take the phone to the office as per their procedure. And the little girl immediately starting cursing at her and bit her on her arm,” Gerald Watkins, the teacher’s husband, told KDKA-TV.
Williams was then called to the school, and the meeting took place. After the meeting, Williams said she went to a local police precinct and filed a report. Police have not said if they are going to investigating Watkins in connection to the cell phone incident or if she will face charges Williams filed a police report against her.
2. She Told Police ‘I Ain’t Gonna Lie, I Did It,’ but Denied Using a Brick During the Attack
Janice Watkins told police she was sitting in traffic about 3:15 p.m. on the West End Bridge when she noticed a man and a woman exiting a black SUV and approaching her car from the driver side, according to court documents. She said the woman “threw a brick at her, which traveled through the window frame and hit her in the face.”
After being struck in the face, Watkins said the woman “opened her driver door, pulled her out of her vehicle and began to assault her outside of her vehicle, by punching and kicking her.”
She said the man and woman then fled from the scene. Police and medics arrived and Watkins was taken to the hospital.
Police later learned about the earlier incident involving Williams and Watkins at the school, and went to her home on North Charles Street.
Williams told police she had been involved in an incident on the West End Bridge when asked about it. “Williams took a deep breath and looked away, then stated ‘I ain’t gonna lie, I did it,” according to the police report.
Williams said she assaulted and attacked Williams because she was unhappy about the incident involving her daughter. She said she followed Watkins from the school and to the bridge. While they were sitting in traffic she said she “exited her vehicle, walked over to Watkins vehicle and punched her in the face.” She denied using a brick, and told police she “only used her fist,” during the attack.
“I did get out and I did hit her, but I did not throw a brick through the window as they say I did,” Williams told WPXI-TV before turning herself in. “I did not. I punched her in her face.”
According to police, Williams’ boyfriend, Vincent Beasley, told officers he “was not involved and that all he did was attempt to break up the fight.” He has not been charged, but the investigation is ongoing.
3. Williams, a Mother of 2, Is a Waiter With Previous Convictions for Disorderly Conduct (Fighting) & Retail Theft
Williams is a mother of two, according to her Facebook profile. She is originally from Chester, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.
According to court records, Williams has previous convictions for disorderly conduct (fighting) and retail theft, both misdemeanors. The theft conviction came in 2007 and the disorderly conduct conviction was in 2011, both in Delaware County. The 2011 charge was one of many she faced after an arrest that year, including conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and resisting arrest. The other charges were all dropped.
She works as a waitress at The Grand Concourse, a restaurant in Pittsburgh, and has previously worked as a server at Atria’s, also in Pittsburgh, a job she started in 2015. She also worked as a department leader at Macy’s, as a server at Gallaxy Bar and Grill in Philadelphia, a parking lot supervisor in Philadelphia, a medical assistant, a sales associated and a Red Lobster hostess, according to her Indeed resume.
Williams graduated from Chester High School in 2008 and completed a medical assistant program at Chi Institute in Broomall in 2009.
“Dedicated and Motivated, Flexible schedule, Strong mathematical aptitude, Excels at upselling, Over 5 years’ experience in Money Handling, Friendly and enthusiastic, Gregarious and positive personality, Ability to strive in a fast paced environment an all while still having fun, Quick study with the ability to easily assimilate new ideas, concepts, methods, and technology,” she said on Indeed.
Williams has also worked as a certified facilitator for Help Increase Peace in the Streets, a Philadelphia-based program that aims “to address issues of interpersonal violence, prejudice, and injustice with participants of all ages, with a focus on middle-and high-school age youth.”
4. The Local Union Called the Attack ‘Blatant Disrespect’ of Their Profession & of a ‘Dedicated & Well-Respected’ Teacher
Janice Davis Watkins was hospitalized in stable condition Wednesday night. It is not clear if she has been released from the hospital or when she will return to work.
“Her head is hurting real bad, her face on the one side is swollen,” Betty Davis, Watkins’ mother, told KDKA-TV. “They say they want to do a scan to make sure everything is okay.”
She told the news station her daughter was left dazed and bleeding while her attacker ran off. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance.
“My heart goes out to the child, because what has that mother taught that child? Whatever it is, you solve it with violence,” Davis said. She said her family is relying on their faith in their battle for justice. “Let the Lord fight this for me. I’m going to do this right, do it the right way.”
Gerald Watkins, who is also a Pittsburgh teacher, told KDKA-TV he is worried for his family’s safety.
“Sad and disappointed that people would go to such lengths against another human being over something so petty,” he told the news station. Watkins said his wife has been having severe headaches and could have a concussion.
“Under the circumstances, (she’s) pretty good. Right now, she just wants the pain to go away so she can continue living life,” he said, adding that she did lose a tooth. “It was actually one of her molars in the back, got cracked, and she has a bloody lip. Her face was numb, she has lumps all along her forehead and all along the side of her face. It’s not disfiguring, but it shouldn’t be there. It was caused by somebody else doing something crazy.”
Gerald Watkins told the news station, “We’re very forgiving people. I would imagine she can forgive her.”
The victim’s son, also named Gerald, told WPXI-TV, “It’s just ridiculous and it’s horrible. That’s the way they teach their children to solve differences. There’s 102 ways that you can deal with this situation and violence is not one of them.”
Her daughter told the news station her mother loves kids and is like a “mother to the motherless.”
The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers called the incident a “vicious attack,” offering their thoughts and prayers to Watkins.
“Words are not enough to express my horror about the brutal attack on one of our own yesterday,” PFA President Nina Esposito-Visgitis said in a statement. “Appalled, incensed and enraged are a few of the emotions I am feeling right now. While this frightening incident occurred off school grounds, it was connected to things that happened at school.
“Janice is a dedicated and well-respected part of the King community—she is a magnificent person and professional. No educator should ever have to deal with this blatant disrespect of our profession or of our humanity. Our educators work hard every day and put in countless hours to make sure that each and every student is successful. I simply cannot understand this senseless act of violence against an educator,” Esposito-Visgitis said.
She said the “horrific attack” is the “most appalling act” she’s addressed in her six years as the PFA’s president.
“I know acts of violence like this do not represent our kids or our parents, but it is beyond unacceptable. We as a union cannot and will not stand for this,” Esposito-Visgitis said. “We all must work together to make sure that we have a positive and safe teaching and learning environment in every one of our 57 schools.”
She said that the union is continuing to ensure the safety of educators and students.
“I am urging our members to take whatever precautions are necessary to help protect themselves. I have encouraged our members to contact school police if they feel unsafe and to immediately alert us about safety issues in their schools,” she said.
In a statement, the school district said, “Our thoughts are with the teacher who was injured in yesterday’s incident, and we wish her a full and speedy recovery. As the incident is the subject of an active City Police investigation, no further comment will be provided by the District at this time.”
5. Williams Is Being Held on $50,000 Bail & Faces More Than 20 Years in Prison if Convicted
Williams is being held on $50,000 bail at the Allegheny County Jail, according to court records. She was unable to post bail after her arrest and is scheduled to appear in court on November 2.
“I have to be patient. That’s one side. There are two sides to every story,” her attorney, Blaine Jones told KDKA-TV. “I’d like to talk to Ms. Williams and get her side of it. Ms. Williams didn’t have the chance to write anything down. So I’d like to get her side of it and go from there.”
Jones told WPXI-TV, “The first thing we’re going to try and do is get Ms. Williams out of jail.”
Williams faces several years in prison if convicted. She was charged with first-degree felony aggravated assault, which carries up to 20 years in prison, along with two counts of second-degree aggravated assault, which carry up to 10 years in prison, along with misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment, terroristic threats and stalking.
According to the police report, there was some confusion regarding Williams’ arrest. When officers went to her Pittsburgh home, she was there with her children and boyfriend. She was then placed under arrest, handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car, police said.
Police said Williams told them her boyfriend could watch the kids, and the officer planned to arrest her. But when police attempted to contact the on-call district attorney to get approval for felony charges, their calls were not answered nor returned, so Williams was “then released outside her home and advised that she would have a warrant in a few days. Daishonta Williams stated that she would turn herself in on Tuesday.”
Officials told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the officers called the wrong number.
“Pittsburgh Police and 911 are given a phone list identifying the person and number to be called,” Michael Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala, told the newspaper. “In this case, contrary to written instructions, Pittsburgh Police called the wrong person and the wrong number.”
Police spokeswoman Sonya Toler told the newspaper, “Yes, officers made a mistake and the matter has been addressed so the mistake is not repeated.”