Lawsuit filed over paddling incident
By Mark Harrison, Times-Journal, July 20, 2011
The paddling of a 13-year-old child at Plainview School last year has led to a federal lawsuit seeking unspecified damages from individual members of the DeKalb County Board of Education, superintendent Charles Warren, principal Ronald Bell and Stuart Mitchell, the teacher who allegedly administered the paddling. The five-count suit alleges violation of the student's due process, negligent training and supervision of a school system employee, wantonness and assault and battery on the part of Mitchell. It also claims the student's 14th Amendment rights to due process were violated. According to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Mitchell, a teacher at Plainview allegedly paddled Payton Lewis - then a student in Mitchell's classroom - on Oct. 6, 2010. Payton's mother, Melissa Lewis brought the suit on behalf of her son. According to the suit, during class on Oct. 6, Mitchell announced that certain students made below a particular grade on a test, and then ordered four students - including Payton - to go out into the hallway. According to suit, one student - an unidentified female - began to cry and was allowed to return to the classroom. The suit alleges that Mitchell then told Lewis that he was going to paddle him, in the same fashion that Mitchell's father had paddled him as a child, for making an unacceptable grade on the test. According to the suit, "Mitchell never provided Payton with any alternatives to paddling or afforded Payton the opportunity to have a hearing before the imposition of the paddling." The suit claims Mitchell then used a wooden paddle with two holes drilled into it to "beat Payton so severely that it caused bruising that was visible for approximately two weeks" and then "hugged Payton in an inappropriate manner." According to the suit, Lewis "suffered such severe physical and mental trauma based on...Mitchell beating him that Payton had to undergo psychological counseling in an attempt to overcome the effects of the beating." The suit claims that "the force of a 350-pound man using a weapon such as a wooden paddle against a child less than half his weight presented a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious bodily injury to the child" and claims that "Payton did not present any disruptive behavior that would warrant corporal punishment" The suit contends that Mitchell's action "constituted an assault and battery on Payton Lewis." The lawsuit contends that the individual members of the DeKalb County Board of Education - Mary Etta Bailey, Harold Bobo, Claude Callaham, Mark Richards and Terry Wootten, as well as Bell and Warren, all "had notice that Mitchell, in his capacity as an employee, regularly engaged in courses of conduct that posed a pervasive and unreasonable deprivation of the procedural and substantive due process rights of the students under his control" and that "parents of students under Mitchell's control had complained for decades about Mitchell's imposition of beatings of the type inflicted on Payton Lewis in violation of [school board] policies" but the school board consistently failed to take corrective action. Both Warren and Bell would not comment Wednesday on the suit. Attempts to reach board members and Mitchell failed. Gregory F. Yaghmai, of Rutledge & Yaghmai in Birmingham, is the lead attorney for the plaintiff. "Our position is that they have tried to portray this under the guise of corporal punishment when in fact it was a beating," Yaghmai said. "This has been a very long standing problem at this school, and we hope to get justice not just for Payton but for other students and prevent this sort of thing from happening again in the future." The suit asks for "compensatory and punitive damages to be determined by a jury" from the defendants as individual entities.