Photo | Lagniappe
Attorney Charles Bonner (far right) stands with members of the Kim family and attorney Jesse Ryder (far left) during a news conference about a hazing incident at Davidson High School resulting in injuries.
The parents of a student whose arm was broken in a violent football hazing incident are demanding $12 million from Mobile County public schools and an end to what they claim is a “culture of violence” administrators and coaches have allowed for years.
On Monday, the parents of Rodney Kim Jr., a 14-year-old freshman at W.P. Davidson High School, gave notice of their intent file a federal civil rights lawsuit against several school administrators over the injuries, pain and anguish their son suffered as a resuilt of the April 27 incident at Davidson.
Named in the lawsuit are the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners, outgoing MCPSS Superintendent Martha Peek, Davidson Principal Lewis Copeland and the Warriors’ Head football coach, Fred Riley. The claim lays out the family’s demands, which include $12 million in punitive damages, a suspension of Davidson’s football program and criminal charges against roughly 20 young men who were captured in a viral video punching, kicking and jumping Kim the day he was promoted to the varsity team.
So far, four students have been suspended by the school system and the same four have been charged with third-degree assault for their role in the incident. Three were arrested Monday and transported to the Strickland Youth Center. As minors, their names have been withheld.
Police are still searching for a fourth student wanted on similar charges, but Kim’s parents say that’s nowhere near the justice they want for their son.
“We’re going to keep fighting. Not only for our son, but for your sons, too. This barbaric behavior has to stop,” Kim’s mother, Mary Rayford-Kim, said. “At least 10 parents and six school employees have come forward and said this behavior has been going on year after year.”
The Kim family has been vocal about their son’s injuries since they occured after a April 27 spring football practice, but the situation escalated this week when they were joined on the MCPSS administrative campus by attorneys Charles Bonner and Jesse Ryder.
Bonner, who has represented clients all over the country, took point at the news conference, and alleged Kim’s injuries were part of a systemic culture of violent hazing that has “metastasized” within the Davidson football program.
“One of the young men who attacked our a client said that this has been going on for years — that this is the culture,” Bonner said. “Coach Fred Riley has admitted to knowing that there was what he conveniently calls ‘roughhousing.’ This is not roughhousing, this is violence.”
In a printed statement Bonner handed out to the media, one unidentified Davidson student was quoted as saying, “Getting your ass beat [is] just part of the culture. Everybody goes through that sh*t — it’s been going on for years.”
The claim also alleges there have been “six to seven additional attacks on younger, weaker players” in 2018 alone. Bonner said the culture was the reason Kim was hesitant to go into the field house on the day he was attacked, where an “older player” picked him up and “threw” him into the fray.
Before it was a pending legal matter, Peek commented on the video and described it as “very disturbing,” though the Kim family has noted the school system waited six days to address the situation and only did so after the video of the incident surfaced on social media.
Peek vowed to leave “no stone unturned” investigating the incident, announcing the suspension of four students the day after the video was made public. However, she said the grainy cellphone footage is the only evidence MCPSS and local police have to go on, other than witness statements.
Contrary to many of Bonner’s claims, Peek said last week there hadn’t yet been any evidence suggesting this type of violence is routine at Davidson or any other MCPSS school.
“I’ve not dealt with any situation like this in the six years I’ve been superintendent or even before as deputy superintendent, when I worked closely with the athletic director. I don’t know of any tradition like this in the school system,” she said. “I’ve seen some people say, ‘In locker rooms, this has happened since time began.’ Well, if it has been, then it’s time for it to stop.”
Whether an initiation ritual or an uncharacteristic assault, Kim Sr. has expressed displeasure with how the school handled the attack on his son. According to the complaint, “school employees falsely reported to the parents that [Kim] had been injured during football practice.”
He also claims no one with the team called the police or 911 to report this crime or Kim’s injuries.
When asked about the $12 million the family was seeking, Bonner said “it’s not enough” for what was taken from Kim — the dream of playing football at the next level. His father and mother, both former athletes, became emotional during the news conference when their son’s future was brought up.
“He had a dream of becoming not only a marine biologist but a star football player. Now his arm is shattered for life. He will never throw a football again,” Bonner said. “It’s not the kids who beat him that are responsible. We expect kids to be kids, but we don’t expect adults to whom we entrust the lives and safety of our children to turn a blind eye to this kind of violence.”
As a policy, MCPSS does not comment on pending litigation.
Riley, who’s been the Warriors’ head coach since 2004, has yet to comment on the incident. It’s currently unclear how MCPSS’ investigation of the incident will affect Davidson’s regular season, but the team has already withdrawn from its spring game against Baldwin County High School.