Metro-East News

Mom’s suit blaming school for assault of daughter moves to state court; federal judge dismisses

The East Wing of East St. Louis Senior High School is where a female student with disabilities was sexually assaulted by two other students in 2013, according to a lawsuit filed by the girl’s mother.
The East Wing of East St. Louis Senior High School is where a female student with disabilities was sexually assaulted by two other students in 2013, according to a lawsuit filed by the girl’s mother. tvizer@bnd.com

A mother who alleges the East St. Louis school district is to blame for her daughter being raped in a closet is now seeking compensation in state court.

The mother, Chinetta Martin, has filed a new suit in state court after a federal judge threw out her claims.

In two civil suits, Martin named East St. Louis School District 189 and three employees as well as two former students, who were accused of sexually assaulting the female student.

The lawsuit was re-filed in state court late last month after it was dismissed in U.S. District Court for Southern Illinois. Martin’s daughter was a 16-year-old student enrolled in a special education program at East St. Louis Senior High School. The suspects — two male students — were charged in 2013 with criminal sexual assault after the girl told her mother she was raped at school.

Martin contends that the district, principal and teachers failed to take action and violated her civil rights.

The school district’s attorney, Garrett Hoerner, said in an interview that East St. Louis School District 189 and employees named in the suit “are not liable.”

Federal claims dismissed, two new suits filed

U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan dismissed the federal suit in April, saying there was no violation of the girl’s civil rights — which would be an issue for federal court.

Martin claimed her daughter’s civil rights were violated under the Fourteenth Amendment, Title IX, the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In April, Reagan dismissed the suit, ruling in favor of the district and school officials, including Superintendent Arthur R. Culver, High School Principal Lelon Seaberry Jr. and two special education teachers, Eauclaire Shelby and Ilethea Suggs.

“If (the girl) was sexually assaulted, and the court must assume that she was at this stage, her assault was an undeniable tragedy, and her case tugs at the heartstrings,” Reagan wrote. “Judges and lawyers, being human, are moved by sympathy to try to craft a way for (the girl) and her mother to receive relief for the harm allegedly inflicted, but that sympathy is an insufficient basis for allowing recovery based on a theory inconsistent with the law.”

Reagan wrote that although the girl’s civil rights were not violated, she could have a claim in state court “for willful and wanton misconduct against the school officials and for battery and infliction of emotional distress,” and that she “is free to pursue them in state court.”

The federal suit also had named the two former students, Makial Lucas and Samuel Young III.

After dismissal of the federal suit, Martin’s attorneys followed up in May by filing two new suits in St. Clair County Circuit Court. Martin is being represented by two Swansea attorneys Ryan Mahoney and David Cates. Mahoney said the girl has experienced physical and emotional trauma.

“The young lady was a special-needs student who had mandatory supervision, couldn’t leave her classroom without a teacher or an aide. A student takes her out of the classroom, down the hallway and eventually she was thrown into a janitor’s closet where another boy was waiting who sexually assaulted her. That’s the crux of the case,” Mahoney said in an interview.

Hoerner said the school district would not comment on specific allegations in pending litigation.

The suits in St. Clair County also name Lucas and Young as defendants. Both were students at East St. Louis Senior High School, and in 2013, both were charged with two counts of criminal sexual assault. Lucas was 16 while Young was 18 at the time.

The suit says the girl was enrolled in the Emotional Disabilities Program at East St. Louis Senior High School. The student was described as having “significant cognitive and emotional disabilities.”

Federal court documents noted that M.L., identified as Lucas in a previous order, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. The St. Clair State’s Attorney’s Office said the juvenile pleaded guilty to a single count of criminal sexual assault and was sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

The charge against Young still is pending, according to his attorney, George Ripplinger. Young’s case is tentatively set to go to trial in September.

“We have denied everything that we know of,” Ripplinger said.

Ripplinger said he plans to file a response to the civil suit next week. He said his client, Young, of East St. Louis, is not in custody. He also said his client was expelled from the district after the charges came in 2013.

The suit in state court against the school district names as defendants District 189, Principal Seaberry and the two teachers, Shelby and Suggs. All are accused of willful and wanton misconduct.

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages. The plaintiffs also are seeking punitive damages.

Civil suits recount assault, alleged misconduct

The first suit claimed that Young, who also was a special education student, removed the girl from her 7th-period class and led her outside the classroom to a janitorial closet where another student, Lucas, was waiting. The complaint alleges that Lucas “forcefully removed (her) clothes from her body and sexually assaulted her while Young blocked the door from opening.”

The girl was said to be trapped in the closet for about eight minutes.

The plaintiffs said a rape examination was performed two days later on the girl, confirming an assault and the presence of semen.

In Martin’s second suit against the district, Shelby and Suggs were identified as the teachers assigned to oversee the special needs students, including the girl and Young. The suit said Shelby was present in the victim’s classroom and “took no action” to prevent the girl from being removed or to report her absence to administration. The suit argued a lack of supervision and security in the East Wing of the high school, where the special education students were located.

The girl missed her bus ride home and called her mother, Martin, to come pick her up, the suit alleges. Later that night, the girl told her mother that she had been raped at school, according to the suit. Martin said in the suit that she met with Seaberry and other officials the next day.

The suit against the district also said there was security footage showing Lucas entering the closet “just seconds before” the girl was “forcefully pushed” inside. Seaberry reportedly reviewed the video.

Martin said in the suit that the high school refused to show her the footage and “attempted to cover up what happened.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the school defendants are current employees of the district. A spokeswoman for District 189 did not respond to a request for comment.

Kaitlyn Schwers: 618-239-2526, @kaitlynschwers

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