According to people who claim to know him, Brian Miller was a terrific high school math teacher at San Luis Obispo High School. But about a year ago, they say, things began to fall apart for the 27-year veteran instructor.
Today, Miller sits in the county jail on more than a $1 million bond, as prosecutors figure out just how to deal with a man some say suffers from mental illness, and why he remained on staff for six months while out on voluntary paid medical leave.
Miller, 56, of San Luis Obispo, was arrested March 29 on suspicion of threatening school employees and disrupting school after allegedly showing up to Pacific Beach High School, a continuance school in San Luis Obispo, and confronting instructors. He had previously sent at least one e-mail to San Luis Coastal Unified School District and the San Luis Obispo Teachers Association staff threatening harm to himself and others, according to a SLO Police Department report.
San Luis Coastal District office is closed for spring break, and Superintendent Eric Prater couldn’t be reached for comment as of press time. However, District Director of Personnel Ryan Pinkerton confirmed that Miller remains employed by the district, but he’s been out on medical leave since August. Pinkerton couldn’t provide more information, citing a confidential personnel matter, but added that Miller’s leave was voluntary.
According to the police report of one incident, a school resource officer assigned to SLO High School responded to a call for assistance from Pacific Beach High at around 2 p.m. on March 29 regarding a disorderly person refusing to leave the campus.
The responding officer stated in his report that he was familiar with Miller from contacts over the previous week. Miller, in a separate incident, allegedly showed up at the home of a retired SLO High principal and began yelling at him.
According to the report, Miller told the officer he was there for a meeting with Pacific Beach Principal Greg Halfman, and wanted to know which classes he would be teaching the upcoming school year.
According to a statement Halfman gave to the officer, when the principal arrived for work that day, he found Miller waiting for him on a couch in the lobby. Miller allegedly told Halfman that he was going to be the next math teacher at Pacific Beach. Halfman confirmed with District Assistant Superintendent Rick Robinett that wasn’t true and asked Miller to leave.
An argument ensued after Miller refused to go, according to the incident report. Halfman told the officers that he had to tell several students present in the office to leave, out of concern for their safety. Miller allegedly made several disturbing statements during the exchange, such as “I got bored today, so I decided to do this,” and “I’m going to be on TV today.”
Neither Halfman nor Robinett returned requests for comment before press time.
Miller was arrested and charged with disrupting a school campus, a misdemeanor. While investigating the case, officers discovered that Miller had sent a seemingly threatening e-mail to his representative at the San Luis Obispo Teachers Association the day before.
In an e-mail exchange between Miller and association member Terry Finyan, regarding an announced visit Miller made to the association office the week before, Finyan tried to console Miller regarding unspecified “drama” he was going through.
“Really, that is all you can come up with?” Miller writes. “All of us had drama, and we just survive it? Well, you don’t know MY drama.”
Miller explained that, the week prior, he contemplated ending his life with a “shitload of pills,” but refrained only because of his son and dog.
“If no one continues to pick up your please [sic] for help, well, there you have the reason we have the term ‘going postal,’” Miller continued. “Guys don’t snap one day and decide to shoot up their workplace instead of a convenience store. Guys snap and shoot up the office because for eight years, they got treated like shit, and when they asked for help were ridiculed. Then, they don’t give a shit at some point.”
Miller continued: “I’m going to the office. I will probably die there. But three random people get to die with me, their lives destroyed, just like mine. Now … maybe I can get some peace in death, cause I shore [sic] didn’t find peace in life. Now Terry, that’s drama.”
Finyan couldn’t be reached for comment. Miller’s newly appointed public defender, Ken Cirisan, told New Times that Miller has had a “rough go” after the recent death of his mother, but he has no criminal history and a search of his home following his arrest didn’t turn up any weapons.
“[The e-mails] weren’t necessarily supposed to be threatening,” Cirisan said. “He was speaking in hyperbolic terms and analogies which could be construed in different ways.”
One colleague of Miller’s, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called the situation “heartbreaking,” and said that Miller is a distinguished and devoted teacher loved by colleagues and students alike. But recently, the source claimed, his demeanor changed, and questions about his mental state began to surface.
According to Pinkerton, Miller remains on leave pending an outcome of the criminal case.
Miller is charged with felony counts of threatening a school employee and a misdemeanor count of disrupting a school. He pleaded not guilty to all charges on April 2, and is scheduled in San Luis Obispo Superior Court April 17 for a report by a court-appointed doctor as to whether he should be eligible for a decrease in bail. ∆
Staff Writer Matt Fountain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.