Mom sues counselor, 5 students after daughter bullied into suicide attempt
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A mother has sued the counselor and five students at Westport Middle School, claiming that repeated bullying caused her daughter to attempt suicide.
One of the defendants in the suit, listed by the initials M.B. in the lawsuit, is dead, and one of Debra James's other daughters is charged with her June 2017 murder. Attorneys for Tiffany James argue that she stabbed Madison Branch in self-defense during a fight outside a Speedway gas station, and she has a pretrial conference scheduled for Sept. 1, court records show.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Jefferson Circuit Court by attorneys Ted Gordon and Andrew Mize, says Calvonne Curry-Spaulding, a counselor at Westport, was made aware of numerous bullying incidents involving Debra James’s daughter, identified by the initials S.J., but “failed to take action or effective action” to protect her during the 2015-16 school year.
“She was the one who knew about it, and she was the one who specifically says, ‘I’m going to handle it. We’re going to take care of this,’ and guess what? Nothing is done that stops the torment,” Mize said.
Curry-Spaulding did not immediately return a request for comment. Jefferson County Public Schools declined to comment on pending litigation.
The Speedway incident is mentioned in the lawsuit, saying Tiffany James and S.J. were threatened by Branch and another defendant identified by the initials C.O. before a fight erupted. The suit says Branch hit both S.J. and Debra James, who was at the scene.
James, at the time, said the fight erupted over bullying, which Branch's family denied. The boyfriend of Branch's mother was charged with wanton endangerment after he was allegedly involved in a shooting that targeted Tiffany James's home.
James said her daughter faced bullying, cyberbullying, verbal harassment and physical assault and that she suffers from social anxiety and depression and is nearly nonverbal. The suit says S.J. was given an individualized education program and entered Westport in the seventh grade after being homeschooled before the 2015-16 school year.
The suit claims that S.J., who is now 15, had to transfer buses due to bullying and threats; was nearly hit with a Taser; had her phone stolen and sexually explicit images of another student posted to her Facebook account; was choked and struck in her English and social studies classes; was told she should kill herself; was thrown down stairs; and had another student threaten on Facebook to have someone kill her during the 2015-16 school year.
S.J. tried to end her life July 30 and was hospitalized at Norton Children’s Hospital.
Gordon says S.J. was “tortured” during her year at Westport Middle. In fact, one of the students listed among defendants, identified by the initials B.F., faced criminal charges after the school’s principal, Jodie Zeller, brought in law enforcement to investigate the Facebook threats against S.J., which were made in February 2016.
B.F. pleaded guilty to undisclosed charges in juvenile court, Mize said. Juvenile court proceedings and documents are not publicly available.
“This specific individual that was in juvenile court was actually the one who made the most vicious cyberbullying over Facebook,” Mize said.
James withdrew S.J. from Westport after that February 2016 incident.
“She’s so-so,” James said. “Right now she has to be homeschooled. She cannot go back into school. She doesn’t like being in public.”
The suit alleges negligence and battery and seeks damages from medical, psychiatric and counseling treatment; pain and suffering; mental anguish; and other allowable punitive damages.
Mize said they don’t have a complete total on damages yet, although he said counseling expense alone total about $30,000.
Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.
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