QUITMAN COUNTY, Miss. - A Mississippi school district is at the center of a lawsuit, after a teacher was accused of beating a student with special needs until he was bruised.
The educator, Larry Johnson, was cleared of criminal charges that accused him going too far with corporal punishment, a form of physical discipline in schools that’s legal in the state of Mississippi.
This week, Johnson filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Mississippi, demanding Quitman County Schools pay him $1 million for damages related to the 2015 case.
The 10-year-old child, who FOX13 is not naming in this report, had bruises on his leg after the beating at Quitman Middle School in 2015. FOX13 obtained the photos in court records Wednesday.
Norvell Cunningham is the adult brother of the student, who believes Johnson went beyond the paddle whipping allowed by corporal punishment.
“You assaulted my little brother,” Cunningham told FOX13, directing his comments to Johnson. “You know you did that.”
A grand jury returned an indictment in 2016, charging Johnson with assaulting a vulnerable person, given the child’s disabilities.
The indictment said Johnson “unlawfully caused bodily injury to a vulnerable person by stirking (him) repeatedly with a belt.”
“Mr. Johnson took him out of the school, and into the trailer and beat him,” Cunningham said.
A jury was seated in Quitman County in March 2017, according to court records. Just before the case went to trial, it was dismissed.
After hearing from state witnesses, the judge determined there wasn’t evidence to convict Johnson.
Johnson was forced to resign in 2015, immediately after the incident was reported to police.
The educator is represented by Attorney Derek Hopson Sr. of Clarksdale, Miss.
“There was no broken bones, no blood,” Hopson said. “He didn’t hit this child in his face. None of those things.”
Contrary to what’s stated in the original indictment, Hopson said the teacher hit the child with a paddle, not a belt.
Similar to what’s stated in Johnson’s lawsuit, the attorney told FOX13 Quitman County School principal and other officials handled the case improperly when the child’s family reported the injuries.
“Mr. Johnson suffered horribly as a result of (the principal’s) actions,” the lawsuit claims. “He has suffered lost wages; embarrassment and emotional distress; and attorney’s fees and expenses.”
The lawsuit asserts Johnson’s right, according to the school district’s policies, to discipline a child with physical force. Hopson said the school should have contacted the state’s Department of Human Services first to investigate whether Johnson abused his power as an educator, not law enforcement.
“If there was a complaint from the child’s family, then there’s a process,” Hopson said. “Because they didn’t let due process take place, Larry lost a lot.”
The child’s family agrees the case wasn’t handled properly, but for different reasons.
“If that case was heard somewhere else, he would have got time for that case,” Cunningham said. “By who he knew and who was for him, the case didn’t go further than what it did.”
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