Two dismissed from abuse suit
by JOYAL FRAZIER
PIKEVILLE - A motion was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Pikeville to dismiss all claims against Ruth Blackburn, director of special education, and Paul W. Fanning, superintendent of Floyd County Schools in a lawsuit concerning seven May Valley Elementary special education students.
This is the second motion dismissing defendants in this case. The first dismissal was filed last September for Renee Conn, special education instructional aide.
Ned Pillersdorf, attorney for the students, said, "I felt bad for filing the lawsuit against them (Blackburn and Fanning) after I found out that they acted heroically in trying to find out what was wrong with the children."
The amended complaint now lists the Floyd County Board of Education, principal and vice principal, three members of May Valley's staff and at least two unspecified school employees, along with Marty Mullins, who is alleged to have abused and neglected the children.
The lawsuit pinpoints Mullins, claiming that he subjected the seven Behavioral Disorder Unit students named in the lawsuit to mental and physical abuse on numerous occasions between January to mid-September 2003.
The students ranged in age from 5 to 11 years old during the time of the alleged abuse, according to records from the Cabinet for Families and Children.
According to the amended lawsuit filed Monday, the lawsuit comes as an "action against a school system, its officials and employees, resulting from pervasive mental and physical abuse of disabled students and harassment and discrimination of disabled students, based on their disabilities, who were placed in an Emotional/Behavior Disorder classroom at the May Valley Elementary School in Floyd County. The plaintiffs allege that school officials were aware of and were deliberately indifferent to, a brutal and humiliating campaign of mental and physical abuse inflicted upon the disabled students by their instructional aide, Marty Mullins. Plaintiffs also claim that as a result of the school system and school officials' discriminatory policies and practices, that after the Defendants received reports of aide Mullins abusing the children and even after they witnessed aide Mullins abuse the children, they refused to take steps to remedy mental and physical abuse and discrimination against the children by the perpetrator, aide Mullins. The Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants conspired to conceal the abuse of the children from the parents."
The lawsuit claims that Mullins began a long series of abuse by calling one 11-year-old student names such as "long haired b***h," "long-haired girl" and "faggot" during school in January of last year. This allegedly led to Mullins pushing the student to the floor and then sitting on top of him, pressing his weight on him, putting his arm on the back of his neck and applying force to his neck, according to statements obtained for the suit. The student also stated that, "Mr. Mullins has made many threats to cut my f***ing head off."
The student reported the alleged abuse to his teachers, including special education teacher Mattie Donta. Donta did not respond to the complaint and Mullins denied the abuse, the lawsuit says.
On at least six occasions either one of the children or the child and his mother went to the principal and/or vice principal to report abuse. According to the suit, principal Carole Combs allegedly refused to investigate, saying that Mullins was "like a big teddy bear" and contended that he "loves kids".
Finally Combs and assistant principal Tonya Williams allegedly told the student's mother they were "tired" of the complaints and that they did not believe the reports.
The children all stated that they had witnessed or experienced Mullins, allegedly at one time or another, shove, push, kick, punch, pinch, twist their arms behind their backs, twist their wrists, use pressure points to bring them to their knees, slam them against walls, sit on them or lock them in the bathroom as punishment.
The lawsuit claims that on Aug. 30, Behavior Disorder Unit teacher Justin Ambergy "ordered" the student who allegedly suffered the most abuse to go into the EBD classroom bathroom with Mullins as punishment for yelling out the answer to questions before being called on. The student began crying at the thought of going into the bathroom with Mullins, the lawsuit claims, because he had been subjected to abuse in the room several times before, but was told he had "misbehaved" and "it would be worse" if he did not go into the bathroom with Mullins.
The abuse was again reported to Combs and again she refused to respond, the lawsuit says.
In mid-September 2003, the 11-year-old student's mother took pictures of the bruises and red marks left on her son's body, and on Sept. 13, the Cabinet for Families and Children initiated an investigation into the claims.
Reports from social worker Malvedine Allen, which were taken from interviews of three of the students and instructional aide Rene Conn, were that the claims of abuse and neglect were "substantiated", according to the lawsuit.
Allen wrote in her report, "Mullins ... twisted children's arms, bruising and pushing them", adding that "Mullins is verbally abusive and curses them" and that he picked "one student against another to fight".
The social services report documents that Conn personally witnessed the abuse as did "three other teachers and several aides - yet the abuse continued." Allen also reported that the abuse spanned portions of 2001, as well.
One of the parents recently interviewed questioned why Mullins had not had charges brought against him.
Allen interviewed Mullins on Nov. 19, 2002, and reported the instructional aide said the staff at the school "did not like him and that the children were constantly whispering behind his back and saying that they were going to make up lies to get him into trouble." Allen reported that Mullins also said he was a "good, moral, Christian person" and that he "would never abuse any child," as well as pointing to his prior experience as a prison guard, saying that he "knew how to restrain these children properly."
During a second interview on Nov. 21, Allen wrote that she told Mullins the reports of abuse had been confirmed by the children and Conn. He denied any wrongdoing, according to Allen, and stated that he felt Conn was "too easy on the children".
The lawsuit claims, "At all times relevant to this complaint, defendant aide Mullins continually harassed, threatened, intimidated, mentally abused, physically abused and discriminated against the plaintiffs based on the plaintiffs' disabilities."
Along with the dismissal that was filed Monday, another document was also filed which included a report by Ruth Blackburn recommending the dismissal of Marty Mullins.
According to the lawsuit, "the plaintiffs learned during the discovery process when the defendants submitted their untimely pretrial disclosures on July 12, 2004, that a series of documents referred to either as 'log journals' or 'incident reports' were prepared by the defendant Mullins."
Documentation was written by Mullins on the daily activities and incidents that occurred in the classroom from April 2002 until December 2002, in which Mullins stated on several occasions that he used "basket restraint techniques" for several minutes on the students and also "restraint techniques," but did not elaborate as to what exactly those were or how they were done. The plaintiffs assert that the disclosure and dissemination of such documents would have led responsible Board of Education employees to discover and prevent the continuing harm that was occurring to the children.
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