Citing a long and violent history of hazing and sexual abuse of male student athletes, attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the Hamilton County Board of Education and former Ooltewah High School employees in connection with the December 2015 pool-cue rape of a freshman.
The 23-page lawsuit accuses school district and Ooltewah High School administrators and staff of knowing abuse was taking place and failing to protect students.
"By their actions and inactions, Defendants created a climate in which such misconduct was tolerated, thus encouraging continued and repeated misconduct and proximately causing injury to [the victim]," the lawsuit states.
The Hamilton County Board of Education, former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school's former Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley and former head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery are listed as defendants in the suit, which asks a jury to decide the amount of damages the victim is entitled to from each defendant.
The punitive damages should be an amount "sufficient to deter Defendants from violating others' rights in the future and compel them to put a stop to this abuse once and for all," attorneys for the victim state.
For decades male students attending Ooltewah schools have been victims of sexual assaults, and school officials were alerted to the allegations and chose not to take swift action, according to the lawsuit.
Stan Evans and Jason Hamrick, who previously coached at Ooltewah High School and were the subject of a Times Free Press investigation in February about allegations of ongoing abuse at the school, are both highlighted in the lawsuit as examples of the school system's "known history of sexual abuse of male student athletes."
The school board also failed to maintain adequate policies and training regarding student hazing and bullying, according to the lawsuit and previously reported by the Times Free Press. The board also did not adequately train employees about mandatory reporting of abuse, which according to the lawsuit created a climate where such misconduct was tolerated and encouraged due to a lack of consequence.
State law requires the school system to investigate the harassment, inform the parents of the students involved and report the findings and disciplinary action to the superintendent and chairperson of the school board, but the defendants "failed to do so," the lawsuit states.
Hamilton County Schools interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly and temporary board Chairwoman Rhonda Thurman released a joint statement Friday night, saying the lawsuit had been received.
"Providing a safe, secure environment for all of our students continues to be the top priority for our school system," they said in the statement.
Due to the litigation, they declined to comment further.
The school board's attorney, Scott Bennet, explained that under federal court rules he cannot comment on any litigation.
The plaintiff in the case, listed as John Doe, was raped during the basketball team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., just days before Christmas. Three of the victim's former teammates were convicted Aug. 30 in connection with the rape. The oldest of the three assailants, who turned 18 soon after the incident, was charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault in Sevier County Juvenile Court. The other two boys, who held the victim down during the attack, were convicted of aggravated assault.
All three boys are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.
The attack took place in a basement bedroom of a rented Gatlinburg cabin while the coaches were upstairs. Two players held the victim's head down to the bed while a teammate forced a pool cue into his rectum, breaking the tip of the stick off inside him. As the victim screamed the teammates scurried out of the room, and coaches found the boy in a pool of blood, urine and feces, according to the lawsuit.
The boy was eventually rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to repair his rectal wall and bladder, and he still endures physical pain, emotional distress and psychological trauma, attorneys say.
"The gender-based hazing and sexual harassment suffered by John [Doe] was severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive," the lawsuit states.
Attorneys argue that the victim's Title IX rights were violated. And the lawsuit lists numerous reasons why the coaches knew abuse was taking place on the team before the Gatlinburg trip, and claims the coaches and school leaders chose not to take action to protect the victim.
According to the lawsuit:
* A student, identified as "G.W," started working out with the basketball team as an incoming freshman, and during the summer of 2015 older boys on the team subjected him to "racking in," a ritual on the team. "Racking in" is a term used to describe the beatings freshman would receive from older players, often in the locker room with the lights off. G.W. told his mother about the locker room beatings in October, and she reported this to Nayadley, "who refused to investigate or take any action."
* Montgomery's office was connected by a wall to the locker room, and he would walk in occasionally and tell the boys to knock it off and turn the lights on.
* Players openly talked about "the rack" in front of Montgomery and the team's volunteer assistant coach Karl Williams, and the coaches were driving the team to Gatlinburg when older players taunted the four freshman, saying they would be subjected to "some sort of ritual initiation at the cabin where they would be staying during the tournament."
* Before the Gatlinburg trip, Montgomery was also aware of the animosity the main assailant, now convicted of rape, had toward John Doe. Both the assailant and the victim were vying for the same position on the basketball team, and the assailant loudly taunted and insulted the victim during practice. The assailant referred to the victim as "b****made," a gender-based slur that refers to males as weak or effeminate, and when the victim asked Montgomery if he had heard what was said, Montgomery told him to "man up."
* Montgomery was also aware that older players were throwing the freshmen, against their will, into the Gatlinburg cabin's hot tub the first day the team arrived. When notified about the incident, Montgomery made the assailants run and do push-ups, which angered them.
* The following two days the older players began using pool cues to prod the three other freshman players in the rectum, and during each attack the victimized student screamed, "and the coaches staying on the top floor of the cabin — who were able to hear the screams — did not come down to the floor where the assaults were occurring to investigate." The third day the team was at the cabin, John Doe was assaulted, and received the most severe injuries.
Montgomery's attorney, Curtis Bowe, did not return a request for comment Friday.
Nayadley's attorney, Lee Davis, said Friday night neither he nor Nayadley had seen the lawsuit, so he would wait to comment.
Jarvis, who has not been criminally charged in connection with the case, hung up on the Times Free Press when called for comment.
State law requires mandatory reporting of child abuse and child sexual abuse, as does the school board's policy, but no one from Ooltewah High School or the school system reported the attack to law enforcement or the Tennessee Department of Children's Services at any point, the lawsuit says.
Montgomery and Williams also failed to protect the scene where the attack took place, and did not gather evidence, according to the lawsuit.
"After the rape, Montgomery met with the team and reminded the players, 'we're a family and what goes on in the family stays in the family,'" the lawsuit states.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston charged Montgomery, Nayadley and Williams in January for failure to report child abuse.
Montgomery is the only person to still face charges in Hamilton County Criminal Court, as Nayadley accepted pre-trial diversion and the charges against Williams were dropped.
Due to the board's failure to have the proper policies and training in place, the victim's attorneys argue the board should not be protected by the state's Governmental Tort Liability Act, which protects governmental boards from lawsuits and limits the amount of damages that can be paid. Attorneys say the board failed to protect the victim, and that Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery's negligent actions provide legal grounds to remove the board's immunity.
The board commissioned a private local attorney, Courtney Bullard, to investigate Ooltewah High School after the rape. Bullard's report is noted throughout the lawsuit, as she also states that a "culture of hazing" existed at Ooltewah.
The attorneys representing the plaintiff are Douglas Fierberg and Monica Beck of the Fierberg National Law Group based in Washington, D.C., and Eddie Schmidt of Nashville.
"Schools are required by federal and state law to prohibit violent hazing and gender-based violence," Beck said in a written statement. "This young man had a right to participate on the basketball team without sacrificing his physical and emotional safety to hazing traditions long known and tolerated by school officials."
Schmidt states that other families of student athletes who were victimized as a part of the culture of hazing at Ooltewah High School should contact his office.
"Your voices will be heard and we can put an end to this senseless violence," he said.
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or krain firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.