Lawsuit filed in Ooltewah sexual assault claims Hamilton County Schools covered up abuse

The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. (Staff photo by Maura Friedman)
The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. (Staff photo by Maura Friedman)
photo Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 2/15/16. Ooltewah High School head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery looks into the crowd during a brief intermission from his preliminary hearing in Hamilton County Juvenile Court on February 25, 2016. Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston charged head coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley with failing to report child abuse or suspected child sexual abuse in connection with the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman by his basketball teammates Dec. 22, 2015.

A second federal lawsuit filed in connection with the Ooltewah High School rape case claims Hamilton County Schools and some of its employees allowed a culture of bullying and sexual assault to fester at the school, leaving students unprotected.

The lawsuit was filed Friday by the family of an Ooltewah High School basketball player who was sexually assaulted by older players during the team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., nearly a year ago.

Before the trip, the victim referred to as "Roe" in court papers endured months of harassment and beatings by teammates, which was a ritual on the team, according to the lawsuit.

"OHS has lionized sports and athletes to the point of protecting athletes who engage in misconduct," the lawsuit states.

For years coaches and administrators ignored the abuse or covered it up, enabling the older players to attack four freshmen with pool cues during the Gatlinburg trip, the lawsuit claims.

One boy was injured so severely he had to undergo emergency surgery. That boy filed a federal lawsuit in September against the school board and former Ooltewah High School employees.

The new lawsuit names the school board and school district, along with former head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, former Principal Jim Jarvis and former Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley. The lawsuit also names Marsha Drake, who was the district's Title IX coordinator at the time of the rape.

"[Hamilton County Schools] had a lack of adequate policies, training, and procedures and deliberately failed to take appropriate preventive or remedial measures," the lawsuit claims. It says the system and school officials "engaged in a pattern of behavior, a cover-up, to discourage students from reporting the sexual assaults."

After the Gatlinburg attacks, Jarvis and Nayadley, with the approval of school system secondary operations director Steve Holmes, allowed the basketball team to continue playing games, which "reflected grave indifference to the sexual assaults," the lawsuit claims. It points out that Jarvis didn't get school board approval for the trip, as required by policy.

This is the first lawsuit that names Drake. The lawsuit states she was not appropriately trained for her responsibilities as the Title IX coordinator and failed to take any effective steps to prevent the attacks. It says he was a victim of sex-based harassment, which deprived him of a safe educational environment and violated his Title IX rights.

The lawsuit notes court documents showing the Hamilton County school board and the defendants do not admit responsibility for the rapes and deny a culture of abuse that the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office and private attorney Courtney Bullard found during their investigations into the incident.

Roe now attends a private high school, and the lawsuit asks to be reimbursed the cost of his education, along with damages for mental suffering and pain. The lawsuit also asks for punitive damages against the individual defendants and demands a jury trial.

Local attorneys Justin Gilbert and Eric Oliver are representing Roe and his family.

Also Friday, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole dismissed four charges of failure to report child sexual abuse against Montgomery.

The new lawsuit claims Montgomery knew older players were beating the freshmen and failed to stop it before the trip, and that he left the boys unchaperoned to get groceries.

The suit states Montgomery asked three freshman players in Gatlinburg why they were in their room with the door locked.

"Roe stated they were afraid of what the upperclassmen might do to them. Despite this, no further precautions were taken to protect the freshman from further abuse," the lawsuit states.

Contact staff wrtiter Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.

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