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School CP - August 1996

Corpun file 00497

The Times, Munster, Indiana, 9 August 1996

Grand Jury Indicts Principal on Misdemeanor Charge

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) --- A grand jury has indicted a high school principal on a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness for paddling a student, County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp said Friday.

If convicted, Sheridan High School Principal Al Youmans, 53, faces up to 180 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. He is scheduled for an initial hearing in a magistrate's court Aug. 21.

Youmans will not be arrested but will receive a summons to court, Leerkamp said.

The prosecutor had filed misdemeanor battery and criminal recklessness charges against Youmans on May 16 after state police investigated the Feb. 12 incident in which Youmans paddled Christopher Goodnight, a 15-year-old seventh-grader, for fighting with another student.

Leerkamp, however, dismissed the charges in the face of public support for Youmans and said she would turn the matter over to a grand jury.

The six-person grand jury heard evidence presented by the prosecutor last week and returned the indictment Thursday.

Youmans' attorney, William Wendling, complained that none of the grand jurors was from Sheridan, town about 20 miles north of Indianapolis.

Wendling also said he was ready to file a motion to dismiss the charge, saying his client's "conduct was privileged and does not rise to a criminal level."

Wendling said his client was charged under the state's hazing law, which generally outlaws dangerous initiation practices by college fraternities.

Under the hazing statute, it is illegal to force another person, even with consent, "to perform an act that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury."

State police said their investigation showed that both Goodnight and the other student were given the choice of a three-day suspension or three whacks with a wood paddle. Both opted for paddling.

Goodnight's parents contacted authorities because the boy complained of difficulty sitting down and had 3-inch square bruises on his buttocks.

Leerkamp said the indictment "supports my initial feelings."

"The citizens felt from the facts there was enough to support a criminal charge. Now, whether he will be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury is another thing. At least six people thought it merited a criminal recklessness charge," the prosecutor said.

Youmans and his lawyer have cooperated with prosecution, she said.

After the initial filing of charges in May, the Marion-Adams School Board decided Youmans' conduct fell within the scope of the school's corporal punishment policy.

AP-CS-08-09-96 1715EDT

blob Follow-up: 29 October 1996 - Hearing Nov. 8 on paddling case

Houston Chronicle, Texas, 10 August 1996

Paddling dismissed by judge

Spanking lawsuit ruled frivolous

By George Flynn

A mother and her son sued Houston Independent School District for damages after a music teacher paddled him with a broken cello for being tardy.

But the two got strummed by a judge Friday who dismissed the case and assessed $15,000 in penalties against them for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

State District Judge William Bell ordered the sanctions against Alice Ramirez and Mark Anthony Ramirez of the 1100 block of Gregg Street. They had continued their case despite repeated warnings from HISD attorneys -- long before the filing of the suit -- that state law clearly does not permit such legal actions against school districts.

The plaintiffs did not appear for the hearing Friday. Bell told attorneys that he might view the case differently had there been any evidence of real injuries from the spanking.

"But this is all over a paddling," the judge told attorneys. "It is silly to be wasting our time and taxpayers' money. We can have people running down here to sue every time there's a spanking."

The family sought damages against the district and former teacher Leslie Rodgers for a May 4, 1993 incident at Bruce Elementary School.

Mark Ramirez was one of two students who showed up late for music class. Witnesses said Rodgers spanked both of them with the upper piece of a broken cello he had wrapped with duct tape. His mother was called by the school nurse when her son soiled his pants after the paddling.

She saw bruises left on his buttocks from the broken instrument, and notified the principal, court documents showed. Rodgers was immediately reassigned away from the school and fired after an investigation. The suit said the district and school had repeatedly instructed teachers that corporal punishment was forbidden.

"I told him (Rodgers) he didn't have the right to have hit my son," the mother said in a written statement in the case file. "He said that it wasn't the first time that (her son) had been late ... That's when I told him that he was supposed to have sent me a note to tell me about the problem."

Ramirez and her son sued the district and Rodgers for assault, false imprisonment and other allegations of negligence and gross negligence.

However, HISD attorney Janet Little Horn challenged the suit on several grounds. She told Bell that attorneys had repeatedly advised the mother that Texas law specifically exempts districts from the types of allegations raised by Ramirez and her former attorney, Cindy Garcia of Brownsville. Horn also said the two-year period of eligibility for filing any suit had already elapsed when the case was filed.

Court records showed the district gave the plaintiffs until last September to drop the suit or face potential sanctions -- but that deadline went without action. Garcia withdrew as plaintiffs' attorney in June, citing unspecified "conflicts."

Bell gave the plaintiffs another month to find a new attorney. Alice Ramirez was representing herself when the dismissal was granted to the district. By that time, the case had cost HISD more than $8,000 for attorneys, and almost that much in related expenses. The penalties are expected to be paid by Ramirez to the district.

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