Ex-Ooltewah High staffers' lawsuit claims mistreatment in wake of rape case

Three men and their wives are suing for millions of dollars in damages

The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. (Staff photo by Maura Friedman)

In the wake of the 2015 Ooltewah High School rape, three former employees of the school claim they were mistreated and should receive millions of dollars in damages.

Former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school's former athletic director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley and former head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery filed a 33-page federal lawsuit Monday, claiming school, county and state officials violated their constitutional rights by "illegally disseminating false facts" and stripping the men of the "opportunity to defend their employment against the untrue and malicious allegations."

The men, along with their wives - Amelia Jarvis, Janet Nayadley and Bonita Montgomery - filed the suit against the Hamilton County Department of Education, Tennessee Department of Children's Services, Hamilton County, the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston and former Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith.

The lawsuit alleges negligence, age and race discrimination, wrongful termination, defamation, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the rape case.

The lawsuit claims the defendants negligently failed to investigate the case properly and "instead reacted in knee jerk fashion, and without detailed facts."

Each of the men ask for at least $25,000 for emotional harm, pain and suffering, $1,550,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. The wives each ask for $100,000 in damages for loss of consortium.

In December 2015, an Ooltewah High School freshman was raped by his basketball teammates with a pool cue during a team trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn. The victim, 15 at the time of the attack, suffered injuries so severe he was rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery.

The victim filed a federal lawsuit against Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery, including the Hamilton County Board of Education, late last year in connection with the attack. Another victim also was sexually assaulted by his teammates with a pool cue during the trip and filed a federal lawsuit in the case.

Both lawsuits claim that Hamilton County Schools and the three men ignored signs of abuse and allowed a culture of bullying and sexual assault to fester at the school, leaving students unprotected.

The three former Ooltewah employees responded to both suits last year, claiming they should not be held liable for the assaults, placing the blame solely on the students who were convicted in connection with the attack.

The cases are moving toward trial next year, and the Hamilton County school board's insurance company has been footing the bill for Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery's representation in those cases. But it's unclear if that representation will continue now that local attorney Curtis Bowe has filed this lawsuit on behalf of the three men, because it names Hamilton County Schools as a defendant.

In this most recent lawsuit, Jarvis, Montgomery and Nayadley deny that a culture of abuse existed at the school prior to the rape, and claim they've suffered humiliation and damage because of the allegations. The lawsuit also repeatedly disputes the findings of an independent investigation that concluded that a culture of bullying and hazing existed at Ooltewah High School.

The lawsuit claims Hamilton County Schools discriminated against Jarvis because of his age and gender. It also claims the district discriminated against Montgomery, a black man, because of his race and gender, and discriminated against Nayadley, a white man, because of his race and gender.

Last year Jarvis was transferred to be an assistant principal at East Hamilton Middle/High, but never took the position. The lawsuit claims he shouldn't have been demoted.

All three men claim in the lawsuit that Hamilton County Schools acted on false facts and information when making adverse employment decisions about them, arguing that they are not accused of child abuse or failure to report it and followed the district's guidelines and state law when handling the situation.

Montgomery and Nayadley each were suspended and transferred, which was a de facto termination, the lawsuit claims.

But the district has allowed teachers and administrators who committed crimes against children to remain employed in the district, according to the lawsuit. It claims that a teacher at Central High School and East Ridge High School had sex with students and neither the teachers nor principals at those schools were removed from their roles or treated "as poorly" as Jarvis, Montgomery and Nayadley, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit specifically goes after Smith's involvement in the fallout of the rape, claiming that he held a series of news conferences at which he misrepresented information, policy, procedures, protocol, and fiduciary duties with regard to the three men.

"This caused a media frenzy and circus of misreported facts, irresponsible reporting, misrepresentations, speculation, conjecture, and media vilifications of Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery," the lawsuit claims.

During his testimony in a preliminary hearing in the case, the lawsuit claims Smith misrepresented the sequence of events and spread misinformation. The lawsuit alleges he did this to "detract from his poor management abilities, and his sense of control and failure to notify the school board members timely and appropriately thereby failing to provide instruction and reassurance."

Pinkston charged Montgomery and Nayadley with failure to report child sexual abuse last February.

Montgomery found the 15-year-old bleeding in a basement bedroom but did not alert authorities, according to court testimony. When he took the boy to a hospital, medical staff reported the assault, according to the Gatlinburg Police Department.

Nayadley, who was in Gatlinburg at the time of the attack, accepted pretrial diversion last May, meaning his case would not go to a grand jury and the charges would be erased after he completed 10 hours of community service and attended a course on reporting abuse. And in December Criminal Court Judge Don Poole dismissed the charges against Montgomery.

Poole said that despite a moral obligation to report abuse, his interpretation of the statute imposes a legal obligation to report child sexual abuse only for children aged 13 to 17 and when the crimes are committed by household members, which means Montgomery was not legally obligated to report the case.

The muddiness of the statute motivated local lawmakers to begin work to rewrite the statute, making it clear that all adults are required to report child abuse cases.

The lawsuit claims that Pinkston participated in selective prosecution and violated his duty "not to prosecute the innocent" when lodging charges against Montgomery and Nayadley. Pinkston convinced the court to interpret the statute on child abuse reporting differently from its clearly written mandate, the lawsuit claims, allowing him to prosecute both men to "satisfy public outcry."

Pinkston presented and published misleading facts to the public and media, and Hamilton County should have intervened to stop him, the lawsuit states.

The Tennessee Department of Children's Services also took inappropriate action when handling the case, according to the lawsuit.

"DCS failed to follow policy, procedure, or protocol, erroneously naming Montgomery and Nayadley as persons indicated for failing to report child abuse and/or lack of supervision, all without due process under the law," the lawsuit claims.

Children's Services also filed charges against Montgomery alleging a lack of supervision, according to the lawsuit, and the administrative charge is still pending, preventing him from working as a teacher, coach or within a school system.

The lawsuit claims "the actions of the Defendants were willful, wanton, and in gross and reckless disregard for Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery's rights and physical safety and constitute a breach of duty to Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery under the circumstances."

Defendants are prevented from talking about pending cases against them in federal court, and should be served the lawsuit in coming weeks. Defendants are then expected to file a response.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.

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