Attorneys demand evidence after lawsuit alleges Calhoun students drugged, raped classmate

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 10/23/14. Avery Johnson, Fields Chapman, and Andrew Haynes, from left, converse during a break while in Gilmer County Superior Court Judge Amanda H. Mercier's courtroom on October 23, 2014. The three are defendants in a sexual battery case from a Calhoun High School's post prom party earlier this year. On July 7, a Gilmer County grand jury indicted 18-year-old Andrew Isaac Haynes on a count of sodomy, based on evidence that Haynes performed oral sex against the will of a female student during a post-prom party. The grand jury also indicted 18-year-olds Fields Benjamin Chapman and Damon Avery Johnson on other charges in the case.

When she returned to her bottle of rum in the kitchen, a former Calhoun High School student says, she saw four boys with backpacks standing around. She thought that was odd.

She continued to drink, telling her friends at the post-prom cabin party in Ellijay, Ga., two years ago that the alcohol seemed stronger than usual. She says she doesn't remember much after that, not until she woke up on the floor of a bathroom, blood covering her below the waist.

The student returned home on May 11, 2014. Her mom then took her to a hospital, where she told doctors that multiple men had raped her. Since then, a criminal case against three of her classmates has been pending in Gilmer County Superior Court.

But on Tuesday, lawyers for the woman filed a civil lawsuit against the three defendants and 18 other parties. The lawsuit provided a new allegation: Four students allegedly drugged her that night. Defense attorneys for some of those students, however, question the legitimacy of the claim, pointing out that police and prosecutors have never mentioned drugs.

The four men who apparently wore backpacks - Fields Benjamin Chapman, Rhett Harper, Andrew Isaac Haynes and Damon Avery Johnson - are accused in the lawsuit of bringing Ecstasy, Rohypnol and ketamine to the party. The lawsuit also alleges they stockpiled drinks for several days before the prom and coordinated an "alcohol and drug party" at the cabin in Ellijay in the hours after they left the dance.

"There was enough alcohol at the home to 'float a canoe down the Coosawattee [River]," the lawsuit reads.

Police did not charge Harper with a crime in the case, saying he is merely a witness to the allegations.

Until now, those allegations did not include drugs. But the lawsuit, in which the woman's lawyers have demanded $20 million, accused the four men of spiking the woman's drink to take advantage of her. It says they led the woman to a bedroom upstairs in the cabin, where Harper stood as a lookout.

Bobby Lee Cook, one of two attorneys representing the woman, declined Thursday to discuss any evidence he has for this lawsuit. But lawyers for two of the accused men said prosecutors and police have not mentioned anything related to the latest allegation.

"In two years, no one has mentioned any evidence of date rape drugs at all," said Steve Williams, who represents Haynes. "None. Zero. Zippo. Nada."

Added Jesse Vaughn, who represents Johnson: "I have not been told that by anybody on either side of this case. That was a brand-new bolt out of the blue for us. I don't know yet what the facts are around that."

If prosecutors do have this evidence, Vaughn said, they have been slow to deliver it - as has been the case with all their evidence since the charges were filed two years ago. In January 2015, Vaughn and Williams said, the prosecution told them they had 50,000 pages of evidence in this case. But 16 months later, the defense attorneys have not received any documents in preparation for the trial.

Chapman, Haynes and Johnson face two counts of aggravated sexual battery, five counts of aggravated battery, two counts of sexual battery and one count of public indecency.

Johnson also faces a charge of sodomy. Chapman and Haynes, meanwhile, face an additional two counts of aggravated sexual battery.

Combined, the three are staring at 10 life sentences, plus an additional 351 years behind bars if convicted.

The criminal case sparked national attention two years ago because of the similarities of other high-profile cases of sexual misconduct among high school students. Here was a small town. Here was an alcohol-fueled party. Here were three athletes in a town that perennially competes for the football state championship.

However, without any movement through the court system, attention on the case has dwindled. Assistant District Attorney Steve Spencer, who is handling the prosecution, was on vacation and could not comment this week.

In addition to the three criminal defendants in the case, the woman has sued 18 other people. This includes Harper, who the lawsuit alleges was an accomplice to Chapman, Haynes and Johnson.

The list also includes the parents of the student who hosted the party. The lawsuit says the parents were negligent, allowing a group of teenagers to party without adult supervision.

The lawsuit also names Chapman's parents. They, too, are accused of being negligent. Police had caught Chapman drinking alcohol earlier that year, according to the suit, and a judge ordered that he obey a standing midnight curfew. Even so, the woman's lawyers say, his parents let him go to the party.

The woman has also sued the neighborhood where the party happened. According to the lawsuit, the security team of the Coosawattee River Resort Association was negligent in allowing the party to get out of control.

Only eight of the students at the party were on the list to go through the gatehouse, but the security team let those students bring in an additional 20 teenagers. And, according to the lawsuit, the security team didn't visit the house after neighbors complained about the amount of noise the teenagers were making that night.

Cook filed the lawsuit one day before the two-year anniversary of the alleged crime: the day the statute of limitations would have run out. Cook said he has no problem proceeding with the lawsuit while the criminal case sits idle.

"There's no necessity of a criminal case being tried first," he said. "They stand on different footing entirely."

In addition to the drugs allegation, Vaughn and Williams said a couple of other parts of Cook's lawsuit don't add up with what prosecutors have shared thus far.

First, the lawsuit alleges Harper kept the door shut while the other three men were in bed with the woman. But prosecutors did not say that happened during a pretrial hearing in October 2014, when Harper testified.

At the time, Harper said he walked into the room that night and found Chapman, Haynes and Johnson performing sexual acts on the woman. But, he said, those acts were "100 percent consensual."

Prosecutors, for their part, said at the time that Harper was not giving an honest account of the case because his attorney works in the same law firm as Haynes' attorney. But the prosecutors did not say Harper kept the door shut and stopped others from coming inside.

"Rhett [Harper] did not say anything like that to the police," Williams said.

Second, the lawsuit alleges the men raped the woman. However, prosecutors and police did not make that same allegation. A grand jury indicted the men on counts of sexual battery - not sexual assault, the legal term for rape.

The sexual battery charge stems from allegations that the men penetrated the woman with their fingers.

"I don't know why there would be a difference between that [lawsuit] and the indictment," Vaughn said, "other than to say the state didn't see a case for rape in this."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.