Lawsuit filed in Ooltewah High School rape case names school board and school employees as defendants

The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed on Sunday, January 31, 2016.

Eight months after the pool-cue rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman, the victim's attorneys sued the Hamilton County Board of Education and former Ooltewah High School employees.

The 23-page federal lawsuit filed today states that district administrators and school employees knew a culture of abuse had been taking place for years, "and their failure to remediate this rampant abuse resulted in escalation of male student athlete's harassment, hazing and assaults of teammates."

The lawsuit claims that the Hamilton County Board of Education, former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school's former Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley and former boy's head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, were "reckless, grossly negligent and deliberately indifferent to the health, safety and welfare of the [victim]."

The lawsuit asks for a jury to hear the case and decide the amount of damages the victim should receive. Punitive damages are also being sought against Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery.

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 state.

The plaintiff in the case, referred to 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 left the victim with injuries so severe he underwent emergency surgery to repair his rectal wall and bladder, and he still endures physical pain, emotional distress and psychological trauma, according to the lawsuit.

The victim's Title IX rights were violated, according to the lawsuit, as the defendants knew violence and gender-based hazing was taking place and "created a climate in which such misconduct was tolerated, thus encouraging continued and repeated misconduct and proximately causing injury to John."

For decades male students attending Ooltewah schools have been victims of sexual assaults, and school officials failed to take swift action after being alerted of allegations, the lawsuit states.

Both Stan Evans and Jason Hamrick, former coaches at Ooltewah High School and subjects of a Times Free Press investigation in February about allegations of ongoing abuse at the school, are also highlighted in the lawsuit as examples of the school district's "pattern and practice of sexual abuse of male student athletes."

The school board also failed to maintain and enforce an adequate policy prohibiting student hazing, as required by state law, according to the lawsuit. The board also failed to provide training for school district employees and volunteers regarding sexual abuse, child abuse and mandatory reporting, which the lawsuit says created a climate where such misconduct was tolerated and encouraged due to a lack of consequence.

No Ooltewah High School employee or district leader reported the rape to the police or the Department of Children's Services, according to the lawsuit.

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 "exercise reasonable care to supervise and protect John," and that Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery's negligent actions provide legal grounds to remove the board's immunity.

The school board's attorney, Scott Bennett, did not immediately respond to request for comment Friday.

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.

See Saturday's Times Free Press for the full story.

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