Settlement reached with alleged victim in Calhoun post-prom sexual battery lawsuit

Calhoun High School

While the prosecution has sat dormant for two years, payments to an alleged sexual battery victim from Calhoun (Ga.) High School are streaming in.

The insurance company for the Coosawattee River Resort Association in Ellijay, Ga., reached a settlement with the female former student Friday as part of a lawsuit, multiple lawyers tied to the case said. In May 2014, the student accused three classmates of penetrating her against her will in a Gilmer County cabin during an after-prom party.

The settlement with the gated community, where the crime is alleged to have occurred, comes three months after the owners of the cabin also settled with the accuser. Court filings do not disclose how much money they paid.

For a case that began almost three years ago and grabbed national headlines, the slow developments of the civil lawsuit are the only publicly available proof anything is happening. Jesse Vaughn and Steve Williams, attorneys for two of the three defendants in the criminal case, said they still have not received discovery material.

Pressed on when the case could go to trial, Williams said Tuesday, "You'd have to ask the [district attorney] that question."

Alison Sosebee, the district attorney for the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, did not return a call or an email seeking comment. An assistant told the Times Free Press on Tuesday that Sosebee was busy presenting other cases to a grand jury.

The investigation started on May 11, 2014, when the alleged victim went to a local hospital the day after Calhoun High School's prom. She left the dance that night to go to a party with about 25 classmates. There, she said, Fields Benjamin Chapman, Andrew Issac Haynes and Damon Avery Johnson penetrated her with their fingers against her will.

A grand jury later indicted the three men on charges of aggravated sexual battery, aggravated battery and public indecency. Johnson also faces a sodomy charge. Combined, all three are looking at 10 life sentences, plus an additional 351 years behind bars.

In January 2015, Vaughn and Williams said, prosecutors told them they had 50,000 pages of evidence. But neither lawyer has received the discovery material.

Last May, the accuser filed a civil lawsuit against 21 parties, including the criminal defendants, the owners of the cabin where the crime occurred and the Coosawattee River Resort Association. She also accused the men of drugging her at the party.

The owners of the cabin, Joe and Tammy Stewart, are the parents of one of the accuser's former classmates. The lawsuit claimed the Stewarts were negligent for letting the party with alcohol occur on their property.

Leslie Waycaster, an attorney for the family, said an insurance company reached a settlement with the accuser on Nov. 7. As part of the deal, the parties are not allowed to say how much money was exchanged.

The accuser also sued the Coosawattee River Resort Association for supplying negligent security in the gated community. Of the 25 or so students at the party that night, according to the lawsuit, only eight had been on the security team's list to get into the community.

According to its website, the Coosawattee River Resort sits on about 5,500 acres in Ellijay, with about 7,000 lots where people can live. The night of the alleged crime, the accuser's lawyers say, neighbors complained about the noise at the cabin. But the security team never checked on the party.

On Friday, the accuser dropped the gated community from her lawsuit. Lawyers for the accuser and the neighborhood did not return calls or emails seeking comment, but Vaughn and Williams both said there had been a settlement. So did Sam Sanders, who represents another party in the civil lawsuit.

Also, the Times Free Press obtained an email from a member of the neighborhood association's board of directors. Written Tuesday morning, the email by Steve Farrier explains to other members of the board how settlements in civil lawsuits work when an insurance company is involved.

Farrier wrote that the insurance company has the right to settle a case or go to trial, even if the gated community's board does not agree with the plan. Also, the settlement is often private.

"Generally," he wrote, "the loser doesn't want anyone to know."

Farrier and other members of the board did not return emails seeking comment.

Williams, who represents Haynes in the criminal and civil cases, said these settlements seem premature. He said he and other defense lawyers are still waiting to receive evidence before trying to end the case.

"The crazy thing about all this is no discovery has been done," he said. "None. The Stewarts' insurance company and the Coosawattee insurance company have never taken depositions. They've never gotten any information. None. It dumbfounds me.... It's not my money. People can spend their money how they want to."

Chapman and his parents, who are also named in the civil lawsuit, have filed their own case against the accuser, claiming she has committed fraud, defamation and extortion. Their attorney, George Weaver, said the accuser has made up her story of sexual battery to try to get money.

"Plaintiff comes from a family of women who have on multiple occasions raised unfounded allegations of rape and sexual assault in hopes of monetary gains," Weaver wrote in a filing last year. "This lawsuit is proof positive of a continued family tradition."

Weaver did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.