The parents of three local students are suing the Mobile County Public School System following the release of new videos showing alleged “hazing” incidents involving football players from Davidson High School.
Earlier this summer, the family of Rodney Kim Jr., a former quarterback for the Warriors, filed a notice of claim with MCPSS indicating a lawsuit was coming. Last Friday, they made good on that threat, adding two other families who say their sons were injured on campus as well.
Their attorneys, Charles Bonner and Jesse Ryder, claim all three incidents and others occurred due to a “pattern and practice” of coaches and school administrators turning a blind eye to a culture that allowed younger students to be “hazed” by older boys routinely.
Kim was attacked by roughly 15 of his teammates on April 27 after being promoted to the school’s varsity team. Cellphone footage of the incident showing teammates punching, kicking and jumping on top of Kim in the school’s locker room made national news.
He sustained a broken arm that required surgery, and now his parents claim their 14-year-old son’s chances of playing football again are dismal. In May, the family said they could prove the attack wasn’t isolated and have since released two more videos they claim capture similar behavior.
In late July, the Kims’ legal team released cell phone footage to the local media which shows several male students attacking 17-year-old Jeremiah Chatman on Davidson’s campus. Chatman is not a football player, but his family says some of the boys who attacked him on March 29 were.
In the video, five to six boys appear to punch, kick and body-slam Chatman before dragging him across a patch of concrete. At least one student appears to falls on him in the video, which lasts more than two and a half minutes. At no time are any adults seen attempting to intervene.
A third video, released by the Kim family last week, purportedly shows a separate incident in December 2017 where an unidentified student is put inside a trash can by a group of young men before being hurled through the air into a bush near the school building. The Kims claim some of the same students who attacked their son were involved in that incident, too.
The parents of Gary Trey Shondetts also joined the lawsuit filed by Kim and Chatman’s families, which has named MCPSS and the board of education as defendants along with several Davidson faculty members, including longtime head football coach Fred Riley.
While no video of the incident has been released, Shondetts’ family claims that — like the others — he was jumped by a group of older football players in 2016 when he was a freshman.
“During the beating, Coach Fred Riley walked out of his office, stood for a few minutes, observed the beating and said: ‘Dumb asses, break it up,’” the complaint reads. “Coach Riley then turned and walked back into his adjacent office as the beating continued.”
Attorneys for the families, who are seeking a combined total of $36 million in damages, say the school system is financially liable because its policies made it possible for the attacks to occur.
Despite the potential price tag, the families say their lawsuit isn’t about money.
“I keep hearing monetary amounts disclosed — that’s great, but know my son is priceless,” Chatman’s mother, Kennesha Quinnie, told reporters last week. “Money just goes with the program. It’s part of it when things like this happen, unfortunately.”
So far, there’s been no indication of criminal action being taken against the students who were filmed attacking Chatman and Shondetts. However, the video of Kim’s assault on April 27 has led to multiple student suspensions and at least 10 criminal charges.
Ellis Wright, LaQuinton William Jr. and Alex Sullivan, all of whom are 18, were arrested for third-degree assault in May. At least nine others have been booked on similar charges, but because they’re juveniles, information on their cases isn’t accessible by the public.
According to the Kims’ lawsuit, though, at least six of those students have pleaded guilty and a 10th football player identified in the video has fled the Mobile police jurisdiction.
However, the Kim family has been most interested in seeing charges filed against Riley, who they claim is responsible for their son’s injuries because he failed to supervise the team in the locker room and fostered a “fight club” type culture among his players.
“I’ve said before, these teenagers — the football players — were the bank robbers, but Fred Riley and his coaching staff were the getaway drivers,” Mary Rayford-Kim said after several of her son’s alleged attackers pleaded guilty last week. “They’ve owned up to their wrongdoing. These boys have been held accountable, and now it’s time for Fred Riley to be held accountable.”
However, their attempts to have Riley charged criminally have been unsuccessful.
In July, Kim’s parents attempted to sign a warrant for Riley’s arrest with the Mobile Police Department, but an MPD representative told Lagniappe “all of the subjects involved [in the assault] had been charged and/or arrested” and no other arrest warrants had been approved.
Last week, the Kims and their attorneys notified the media before waiting outside the office of Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich for about two hours in hopes of discussing possible charges against Riley. However, Rich never emerged, and the family eventually left.
While Kim’s attorneys claim Riley was aware of and possibly even encouraged similar “hazing” incidents for years, several of his colleagues and former players have made public claims to the contrary.
On Thursday, after the printed version of this article was released, MCPSS confirmed Riley had been placed on administrative leave just two weeks before the Warriors’ first game of the 2018 football season against Meridian High School. An interim head coach has not been named.
It’s currently unclear how long Riley might be on leave or whether the school district is investigating the situation once again. Previously, former Superintendent Martha Peek had indicated that the school system’s investigation of Kim’s April 27 attack was complete.
When asked why Riley was being placed on leave three months after the incident occurred, MCPSS spokesperson Rena Philips only said: “We do not comment on personnel matters.”
Before he was placed on administrative leave, Riley addressed the media during the Mobile County High School Football Media Days in July, where he made it clear that he had no intention of resigning or retiring any time soon.
Regardless of what happens to Riley, MCPSS has been making recent efforts to emphasize the supervisory responsibility coaches and assistant coaches have for their players. While the Davidson incident is not mentioned, Peek issued a memo on “athletic supervision” in May.
Among other things, Peek’s memo stated “all head coaches and all assistant coaches are responsible for locker room supervision,” and went on to say coaches for all sports “must monitor and walk through the locker room until all student-athletes exit.”
The Kim family claims Rodney Jr. was left by himself at the school for “over an hour” with a broken arm after he was attacked in April. Peek’s memo also states coaches are responsible for making sure all players are off campus before they leave.
“Student-athletes are NOT to be left on campus without a coach,” Peek’s memo emphasized.
Newly hired Superintendent Chresal Threadgill hasn’t addressed the Davidson situation directly because it involves active litigation. However, when students returned this week, he did make it a point to reassure parents that MCPSS students are safe, no matter what school they attend.
“I don’t think parents have anything to worry about,” he said. “I have three [children] who attend this system, and I feel very comfortable sending my kids to [school]. They are very, very, safe.”
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