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Charged with threat, Absher files complaint against EHHS teacher

Henderson County School Board member Michael Absher, who is already awaiting trial on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor resident of the group home he operates, faces a new charge of threatening an East Henderson High School teaching assistant.

Tony Carswell, a teacher assistant in the In-School Suspension class, swore out a warrant on Tuesday charging Absher with communicating threats. One day later, Absher filed a complaint of his own, accusing Carswell of repeatedly being "verbally aggressive" toward him and saying that the teaching assistant had yelled at him as soon as he walked into the high school Tuesday morning.

School officials say they always cooperate with any kind of investigation of criminal activity on school property but could not say more about the conflict because it is a personnel matter.

In his handwritten account of the encounter, Carswell, 65, said he was on duty at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday when Absher walked into the front office.
“I stopped him and informed him that our rule is to sign in before going onto the school campus,” Carswell wrote. “He refused and told me he was a member of the HCPS School Board and he did not have to sign in. I contacted my principal Mr. Taylor on the radio and I was told to have Michael Absher sign in.
“Michael signed in and told me, ‘Carswell, I’m glad you’re retiring and I won’t have to put up with your mouth anymore.’ I told him he would have to listen to me out on the street. Michael walked past me and said, ‘I will whip your ass.’”
Carswell called the school resource officer and told him that Absheer had threatened him. The deputy kept Absher in the administrative office until principal Carl Taylor came and talked with him.
Carswell confirmed his account when reached by the Hendersonville Lightning.
“I was doing my job and he threatened me,” he said. “Let’s just leave it at this.”

Absher turned himself in at the sheriff’s office and was released on a $1,000 bond at 10 p.m. Tuesday. Condtions of his release bar him from returning to East Henderson High School, which is his alma mater, and from having contact with Carswell.

On Wednesday, Absher went to the Henderson County Courthouse to swear out a complaint for a temporary no-contact order to prevent Carswell from harassing me. In the hand-written complaint, Absher said that Carswell had been verbally aggressive toward him last fall when he was on campus. At the time, Absher was working as a substitute schoolbus driver. He resigned from that job after he was elected to the School Board. Carswell's hehavior was bad enough, Absher said, to require the school administration to "express (to Carswell) to leave me alone, including standing up saying I work here and had a right to be there."

On Tuesday morning, Absher said in the complaint, he came to East High "to give a kid his meds," as he had been doing since late April with the school administration's blessing.

"As soon as I walked in (Carswell) was at his desk and starting yelling at me," he said. "My nerves and stress has been super high. I multiple times told him to leave me alone and he has no power over me. I have been so emotional all day and night."

District Court Judge Emily Cowan ordered Absher and Carswell to appear in court at 9 a.m. Tuesday for a hearing on whether the temporary no-contact order should be made permanent.

School Board Chair Amy Lynn Holt said Thursday afternoon she was saddened by the situation because of how it reflects on the school system. She said she knows of no exemption from sign-in rules for School Board members.
“As a School Board member I always check in and sign in at the office and to my knowledge so does every other School Board member,” she said.
She said she does not know what more the School Board can do about what is now the second misdemeanor charge against Absher, who was elected to the board last November on his fourth try.
“We received a letter asking for a leave of absence from the School Board," Holt said. "He’s not an active member … What the law states is that district attorney has to be the one to remove an elected official. To be honest I don’t know much about it. I haven’t had a chance to even talk to School Board members.”
A discussion of Absher's status is not on the School Board agenda for its regular meeting Monday night. If something were to be done, Holt said, it would be with the guidance of the School Board’s attorney.
“I don’t know if that’s something we could discuss in closed session. I have no clue,” she said. “I’m just sad. Henderson County public school system doesn’t need negative publicity.” She said she hoped to “speak with our attorney Monday night and find out legally what is in our best interest to do.”

Schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell said administrators would cooperate in any investigation that might arise from the encounter.

"To be honest, when something like this happens we work very closely with the investigation with law enforcement," he said. Like Holt, he said any School Board discussion would be under the guidance of School Board attorney Chris Campbell.

"Right now it is not on the agenda," he said. "We’ll just have to take that up with our School Board attorney because right now (Absher) is under a leave of absence."

Absher, 27, was charged on May 24 with knowingly permitting a 15-year-old male resident of the Only Hope group home off Upward Road to drink alcohol, according to a warrant served after a sheriff’s office investigation. The alleged offense occurred between Nov. 1 and Jan. 1, the warrant said.
“We are confident once a court discovers all the evidence Mr. Absher will be cleared of any wrongful conduct,” Pearson, his defense attorney, said in a statement then.
One day later the Board of Directors of Only Hope WNC issued a statement supporting Absher.
“As a Board, we want to reassure our many supporters and the Henderson County Community that we do everything in our power to provide a safe environment for the youth in our care,” the board said. “We are confident Michael Absher, our President and CEO, will be cleared of the charge against him, and that these allegations are false.”