Hamilton County Schools has settled a civil lawsuit with a former Ooltewah High School student who needed emergency surgery after being raped with a pool cue nearly three years ago. But the terms are currently confidential.
"John Doe's" attorneys reached an agreement with school attorneys after a Sept. 11 mediation, and Chattanooga U.S. District Court Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice acknowledged the settlement in an order Thursday asking both parties to file certain paperwork to end the case.
Attorney Monica Beck, from the Fierberg National Group, said her client, now 18, and his family pushed through deep humiliation to achieve justice.
"Today, we as a nation are witnessing how difficult it is even for adult survivors of sexual assault to come forward and report how they suffered," she said in a statement. "John Doe must be applauded for his courage and fortitude. We also hope this settlement serves as a strong message to all institutions that high school sexual assault is nothing to be minimized or cynically dismissed as simple, youthful indiscretion."
"John Doe" and "Richard Roe" are two of the four then minors who say older classmates attacked them with pool cues during a December 2015 trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for a basketball tournament. On the night in question, with coaches either gone or not watching, Doe's classmates held him down and penetrated his rectum with a pool cue. Roe, meanwhile, said he was prodded with the pool cue over his clothes and managed to escape being penetrated. They both filed lawsuits in 2016 that Mattice set for trial in December.
School attorneys are still fighting Roe's claim and have previously said he has "no real damages," partly because he didn't have physical injuries like Doe. Eric Oliver, one of Roe's attorneys, said Thursday they have not yet been to mediation with school attorneys.
School attorneys either could not be reached for comment or declined to comment Thursday on the settlement figures, and whether the district's insurance policy will cover it. Scott Bennett, the district's regular attorney, directed a Times Free Press reporter to lead Jackson, Tennessee, attorney Chuck Purcell, who did not answer or return multiple phone calls and emails. When asked for specifics on the settlement, Bennett also didn't respond.
Throughout Doe and Roe's cases, Bennett and Purcell argued the district wasn't to blame, instead putting the onus on the older, attacking classmates. Three of them were charged, and in 2016, one was convicted of aggravated rape and two others of aggravated assault. They also argued the coaches and district had no real knowledge of the alleged culture of harassment and bullying that an outside investigator ultimately found existed in the school's basketball program in 2016.
Doe and Roe's attorneys, on the other hand, said the district treated their clients' injuries with deliberate indifference before and after the attack. Showing "deliberate indifference" is one of the cornerstones of Title IX, the federal law that says no student shall be discriminated against on the basis of sex or gender.
In a 62-page order from August, Mattice said Doe and Roe could bring two of their arguments to trial: One was a civil rights violation claim that a "failure to train" resulted in their injuries and the other is a Title IX claim for sexual harassment. Mattice, however, said Doe and Roe could only mention "pre-assault" indifference, not any post-assault indifference, since the judge believed the district tried to address the incident with an investigation.
Roe's attorneys have asked Mattice to change his mind on the post-assault indifference, while school attorneys have previously said they want Mattice's permission to appeal his 62-page ruling altogether. Court records show Mattice hasn't ruled on any of these motions yet.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.