Conflict between parent, councilman & city attorney leads to special prosecutor

A special prosecutor is looking into a complaint against a Norfolk school principal and the Norfolk city attorney. It was filed by a parent and has reached the level of a Virginia State Police investigation because that principal is also a Norfolk City Co

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- A special prosecutor is looking into a complaint against a Norfolk school principal and the Norfolk city attorney. It was filed by a parent and has reached the level of a Virginia State Police investigation because that principal is also a Norfolk City Councilman.

To be clear, let's breakdown who we are talking about here: you might know Michael Muhammad as a critic of city officials, but he is also a parent of a Norfolk Public School student.

Muhammad's son goes to the school where Tommy Smigiel is principal. You might recognize Smigiel’s name, because he is also a Norfolk City Councilman. In that role, he works with Bernard Pishko, the city attorney.

The three are now involved in a complicated dispute.  

Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Doucette said he's reviewed the initial report by State Police into the complaint. He believed "this matter needs to be investigated in greater detail."

So what exactly are they investigating?

Muhammad had a concern about his son, and went to the school. Muhammad said an exchange with Principal Smigiel escalated, and Smigiel called police.

Muhammad filed a complaint with the school division, leading to an email chain we've verified.

City Attorney Pishko wrote the acting superintendent at the time, asking him to make a statement "dismissive of the allegations and supportive of school officials."

Pishko's draft of that statement read: "Michael Muhammad is wrongfully criticizing Mr. Smigiel ... I am familiar with Mr. Muhammad and his complaints and they are baseless."

The school board chairman responded to the request: "If NPS reviews situations differently depending upon who the principal is or who the parent is, then we open ourselves up to the very charge of selective enforcement that is often made or is often the perception."

We wanted to know why Pishko got involved, because he works with Smigiel in his role as councilman, not in his role as school principal. On Wednesday, we asked Pishko for a comment on the complaint and investigation.

He wrote us: "I’m not sure what you are talking about, but if it is Michael Muhammad's complaint that I gave legal advice to the school superintendent involving issues Michael Muhammad had with the school system, that is simply what I would do as the school board's lawyer."

In the email chain we obtained, Tommy Smigiel wrote: "I am concerned that a false accusation has been made about me and my assistant principal, and I hope that both of us have the opportunity to share our side of the story."

We also reached out to him today for his side of the story, but have not heard back yet.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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