Federal lawsuit filed in Ooltewah rape case

A federal lawsuit charging several Hamilton County Department of Education officials did nothing to stop a "culture of abuse" was filed on Friday. (Image: WTVC)

A lawsuit was filed in federal court on Friday that claims Hamilton County Department of Education employees, including administrators, teachers and coaches at Ooltewah High School were aware of a "culture of abuse" that existed at the school for years, prior to the rape of a freshman player's rape with a pool cue at a cabin in Gatlinburg back in December.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of one of the victims, who is referred to in the suit as "John Doe." He required hospitalization after being raped with a pool cue, the tip of which broke off inside of him. That required surgery and weeks of recovery in the hospital.

Three upperclassmen basketball players were convicted last month in Sevier County for the crimes. They'll be sentenced on September 27th.

The lawsuit says OHS head basketball coach Andre Montgomery and athletic director Jesse Nayadley all knew about the "culture of abuse,' but did nothing before the December 22nd incident to prevent it from happening. But it also accuses OHS principal Jim Jarvis and the Hamilton County Board of Education were "grossly negligent" and "indifferent" to the welfare of the players.

The lawsuit says, "school officials – including OHS Principal James Jarvis, Athletic Director Jesse Nayadley, and Coach Andre Montgomery – knew about harassment and hazing of male student-athletes, commonly referred to as the school’s “beat in” or “Freshmen Rack” culture. Defendants’ failure to remediate this rampant abuse resulted in escalation of male student-athletes’ harassment, hazing, and assaults of teammates."

The lawsuit says the defendants called the plaintiff several slurs, and when he tried to address it to coach Montgomery he was told to "man up."

The lawsuit also claims the victim's rights were violated under Federal Title IX, because the violence and hazing was gender-based. And, it claims that male athletes had been victims of sexual abuse for years, without any adult supervisor taking action to stop it.

A total of three adults were charged with not reporting the crime to state officials: Head Basketball Coach Andre Montgomery, Assistant Coach Karl Williams, and Athletic Director Jesse Nayadley. Montgomery appeared in court two weeks ago, where it was decided the Tennessee Attorney General should look at his case. The charges were dropped against Williams in May. Nayadley took a plea deal and completed community service last month.

The Hamilton County Board of Education Chairman Rhonda Thurman and Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly released this statement regarding the lawsuit.

The Hamilton County Board of Education has received a copy of a lawsuit filed today against the Board, Jim Jarvis, Jesse Nayadley, and Andre Montgomery. Providing a safe, secure environment for all of our students continues to be the top priority of our school system. Since this matter is now the subject of litigation in federal court, we cannot comment further.

Recently, we asked Hamilton County School Board Attorney Scott Bennett if a lawsuit filed against the school system would cost taxpayers.

He says the school system is a member of the Tennessee Risk Management Trust.

In the event someone sues the school system, Bennett says money from the trust could be used to settle instead of money directly from taxpayers in Hamilton County.

When we asked Attorney Bennett how much the trust could cover in the event of a lawsuit, he said that information is confidential.

There's no specific amount asked for in this lawsuit.

Attorney Eddie Schmidt explained why to NewsChannel 9 in a phone interview an hour after the lawsuit was filed.

"In this type of case, if you put a number it in sometimes the number detracts from the meaningful nature of the lawsuit," Schmidt said.

This is a developing story. Depend on NewsChannel 9 for updates as they become available, including when the first hearing on the lawsuit will occur.

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