New rape allegations in lawsuit against New Hanover Co. Schools

Proposed complaint also contains emails from board members appearing to dismiss concerns about sexual abuse
The two attorneys say that the insurer for the school board, has now twice in writing reserved all of its rights to completely deny coverage to the victims
Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 11:30 AM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Attorneys representing victims of former teacher Michael Kelly’s sexual abuse have filed a motion requesting to amend their complaint in the lawsuit against the school system. If the motion is granted, the amended complaint would include new allegations against the former teacher of the year and New Hanover County School (NHCS) administrators.

One allegation involves the false imprisonment of John Doe 13, the pseudonym being used to protect the identity of one the plaintiffs accusing Kelly of raping him.

“On at least two occasions between 2008 and 2011, Defendant Kelly provided John Doe 13 beverages containing some form of a liquid substance similar to a ‘date rape drug.’ At the time, John Doe 13 was not aware that Kelly had spiked his beverages,” the proposed fourth amended complaint reads.

The complaint alleges that the first occurrence happened when Kelly was giving the student a ride home from school, and stopped at Kelly’s house on the way there. No one else was home at the time. Kelly is accused of showing the boy pornography, providing him a spiked alcoholic beverage, and raping him after he became sluggish and could not move.

The other incident happened on the campus of UNCW, according to the complaint.

“Kelly offered to help John Doe 13 with a science project and suggested the two use a Chemistry lab on the UNCW campus. Kelly designed an experiment, which involved having John Doe 13 observe variations in orange juice concentrate. Kelly prepared the various concentrations while John Doe 13 recorded his observations. At the time, Kelly was acting within the course and scope of employment within NHCS as John’s Doe’s Chemistry teacher,” the complaint says.

“As John Doe 13 sampled the mixtures and recorded his observations, he began to feel weak. He soon lost the ability to move. Unable to stand, he leaned on a nearby table to avoid falling. Kelly then proceeded to have anal intercourse with the boy while the boy was impaired and incapable of fending off Kelly. John Doe was so thoroughly drugged that Kelly had to assist the boy with walking out of the building and to Kelly’s vehicle.” the court document says.

The amended complaint further alleges that the New Hanover County School Board violated the students’ fundamental rights to a sound basic education under the North Carolina Constitution. The motion was based upon a recent state Supreme Court ruling in Deminski v. State Board of Education, which found that prolonged verbal, physical and even sexual abuse can deny students their constitution rights to a quality education.

“In the Kelly case, the abuse endured over 20 years,” said Martin Ramey, an attorney from the Rhine Law Firm, representing the Plaintiffs. “As a result of the abuse and this Board’s burying its head in the sand, some of these gentlemen dropped out of school, failed to complete their educations, and are struggling to make ends meet.”

“What’s also unique about this challenge is that the claims are not barred by governmental immunity,” adds Mary Charles Amerson, another attorney with The Lea/Schultz Law Firm. “Governmental or sovereign immunity is often asserted by governmental entities to avoid paying judgments. There are exceptions – such as when an insurer provides insurance coverage, but the immunity remains in effect for anything above the limit of that insurance,” she added.

The two attorneys say that Liberty Mutual, the insurer for the school board, has now twice in writing reserved all of its rights to completely deny coverage to the victims of Kelly’s assault.

“This is true even though the Board paid handsome premiums for many years to Liberty to actually cover such losses,” adds Ramey. “If this were automotive insurance, I’d be asking for my premiums back.”

“It really is a shame that an insurer can essentially derail what is in the best interests of an entire community for its own financial self-good,” says Amerson. At the same time, she adds that the Plaintiffs are not just seeking monetary damages to help them pay for therapy and medications, but that they also want changes to the way that New Hanover County Schools handles such complaints. They have made several specific recommendations to the board.

E-mails from school board members

Also new in the amended complaint, are excerpts from emails of school board members attorneys found during discovery for the pending lawsuit. The names of all the board members have been redacted from the documents filed at the courthouse.

In one email, following the arrest of a teacher, a board member writes, “I am very concerned we do not handle/investigate allegations of inappropriate conduct adequately.... Hindsight is 20/20 but after a thorough review of the [redacted] file, it should have been obvious to all a relationship existed between the teacher and the student. Perhaps the answer lies in referring such allegations to DSS for investigation. The state at DSS is well trained on abuse and neglect issues and, more importantly, have objective point of view since they are not colleagues of those involved.”

In response, the lawyers excerpted another email, but the sender’s name is redacted.

“I think your skin is too thin,” the email reads. “No matter what we do, the Board will be viewed as wrong by someone. We did an investigation, found no evidence and apparently if this goes to court, the evidence will show that nothing happened prior to [redacted]. If you want to cast blame, do it toward [redacted] who put [redacted] ahead of the interest of [redacted].

In another email exchange, which the plaintiffs’ attorneys characterize as “more emblematic of the Board’s deliberate indifference toward preventing abuse,” former NHCS Human Resources Director John Whelmers was alerting the board that a news outlet was planning to do an article following the arrest of a middle school teacher who had been charged with indecent liberties with a minor.

In response, a person who is only described as a former male school board member, responds, “Tabloid journalism. Embarrassing! Wish they would tackle real issues.”

WECT is attempting to determine the authors of these emails through a public records request. We have also requested comment from NHCS. However, in recent months they have declined to comment on any stories related to the lawsuit, citing the ongoing litigation.

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