Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 30, 2012

Parent files suit in paddling incident

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — Cumberland County schools, Homestead Elementary, a former teacher and coach, and administrators are named as defendants in a federal lawsuit filed Oct. 9 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

The suit, filed by Melanie S. Stoner on behalf of her minor child, arises from a paddling incident at Homestead Elementary School in March 2011 where her child was paddled for attempting to leave a classroom early, even though he was on the "no paddle" list and parents had not granted the school permission to use corporal punishment in disciplining the child.

Defendants include Cumberland County doing business as Cumberland County Schools, Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle, Homestead Elementary Principal Robin Perry and James Vaughn Davis, former teacher and coach at the school. The suit claims Davis and the other defendants violated the student's right to due process, committed battery and assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. The suit was filed by Richard M. Brooks, of Carthage, and Crossville attorney Walter Alan Rose.

Davis, then 71, was indicted in March 2012 on a single charge of simple assault, a misdemeanor charge. He was later granted diversion in the case and will be eligible to have the charge removed from his record if he completes the sentencing agreement. He was placed on unsupervised probation for 11 months and 29 days and paid court costs.

Davis also has been on family medical leave with the school system and has not returned to teaching.

According to the lawsuit, the minor child was involved in an ATV accident in 2009 that left him with a subdural hematoma, subarachnoid hemmorrhage, extra axial hemorrhage, intraparenchymal hemorrhage, brain edema and a skull fracture, group together as a traumatic brain injury under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. During the 2009-2010 school year, the student had an individual education plan, and IEP, that called for modified physical education class to avoid contact sports and prevent further injury. Stoner also contacted the school and said her child was not to be subjected to corporal punishment.

The suit states that on March 23, the student prepared to leave the classroom and was instructed to return to his seat because class had not yet ended. The lawsuit states the student returned to his seat and was instructed to not leave the classroom until all the other students had left. However, he left with the rest of the class.

According to the suit, Davis pursued the student outside the classroom, bent him over an object and proceeded to administer three licks with a paddle. The lawsuit states this was in violation of school board policy and was a disproportionate form of discipline for the infraction.

"The defendant's paddling of the plaintiff amounted to an inhumane abuse of official power," the suit states. "These acts, complained of above, constitute a violation of the plaintiff's substantive due process rights."

Perry, VanWinkle and the school system are named in the the suit as being liable because they were Davis' superiors and responsible for his actions.

The lawsuit claims the student has been diagnosed with considerable anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder following the paddling incident and has suffered from a fainting event and nightmares. Stoner claims she also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder as a result of her son's paddling and that the family has and will continue to incur costs for medical and psychological treatment as a result of the paddling.

Stoner seeks damages for physical pain and suffering, emotional pain and suffering, medical expenses, punitive damages, attorney's fees and other costs, not to exceed $250,000 against the school system, VanWinkle and Perry, and no more than $250,000 in punitive damages from Davis.

In addition, the suit asks for a declaratory judgment that the conduct of Davis and the school system were unconstitutional and seeks injunctive relief to bar the defendants from engaging in such conduct in the future and "to provide proper policy, training and supervision of employees and hold them accountable for their misconduct."

Cumberland County Board of Education Attorney Earl Patton said the school system's insurance carrier, Tennessee Risk Management, had been notified and Ken Williams of Cookeville hired to represent the school system in the court proceedings.