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Huntsville School District not liable in alleged locker room assaults, filing states

by Bill Bowden | October 5, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
A sign labeling it as the "Crossroads of the Ozarks," welcomes visitors to Huntsville in Madison County. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette FILE PHOTO)

HUNTSVILLE -- Injuries a boy on the Huntsville Middle School basketball team alleges to have suffered in the locker room "occurred at the hands of third parties whose actions or liability cannot be imputed" to the Huntsville School District, according to a federal court filing Monday.

The document was in response to a lawsuit filed Sept. 10 by Rebecca Nelle on behalf of her minor child, identified as B.N.

In her suit, Nelle said the school district knew students on the basketball team were being sexually harassed and assaulted by older boys and did little to stop it.

The complaint alleges federal Title IX violations arising from deliberate indifference to and actual knowledge of sexual harassment and sexual assault of multiple students; the district's failure to promptly and properly investigate reports of sexual harassment; and claims a hostile education environment was created that denied B.N. and other students access to educational opportunities.

"In fact, the Defendant forced B.N. and other children who were sexually assaulted to go back to class without any punishment on their abusers causing those that were sexually assaulted to be fearful of retaliation and retribution," according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Joey McCutchen, a Fort Smith attorney.

According to Nelle's suit, ninth-grade players on the team would "engage in forcible sexual assault against multiple boys' Middle School players by having one or more students holding an eighth-grade team member down while one or more Middle School basketball players would engage in what was called 'baptism' and 'bean dipping' ..."

"Baptism," according to the lawsuit, "refers to the placing of one's genitals on the face and/or in the mouth of another student. 'Bean-dipping,' as the term is used in this complaint, refers to placing a student's rectum and anus on the face and particularly the nose of another student."

B.N., according to the lawsuit, was abused on 14 occasions while being held down against his will by older basketball players at the school. He was then threatened if he told school authorities or his parents of the abuse.

According to the lawsuit, at least 17 middle school or high school players were victimized and at least one student paid another student not to abuse him.

Charles L. Harwell, the school district's attorney, filed an answer Monday to Nelle's complaint.

The school district denied liability and many of the allegations in Nelle's complaint, wrote Harwell.

Throughout the filing, Harwell denied the paragraphs of Nelle's lawsuit in which she claimed that the school district had knowledge of the abuse and did nothing about it.

"The Defendant prays that the Court strike the impertinent, immaterial and scandalous portions of the Plaintiff's complaint; place the pleadings in this case under seal; require all hearings regarding this matter be heard in closed session; deny the relief sought by the Plaintiff; award Defendant its attorney's fees; and for such other and further relief to which the Defendant may prove itself entitled," wrote Harwell.

Ron Wood of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contributed to this report.

Print Headline: Huntsville School District not liable in alleged locker room assaults, filing states


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