St. John's strikes back
Jun 14, 2012 (The Salina Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Lawyers representing seven former cadets in a lawsuit against St. John's Military School are seeking to add four additional plaintiffs, name school president Andy England personally as a defendant, and claiming that the school has destroyed evidence in the case.
In response, St. John's has made public brief descriptions of the discipline problems the school had with each of the four potential new plaintiffs, as well as an explanation of what happened to two of the original plaintiffs.
The lawsuit, filed in March in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, alleges a culture of abuse at the school and that faculty and staff either look the other way or encourage high-ranking cadets to beat and otherwise mistreat other cadets to maintain discipline.
Since that time, the plaintiffs' attorneys have also accused the school of destroying evidence by inspecting cadets' cellphones and deleting any photos or videos of abuse.
Until Wednesday, the school has declined comment other than to deny the allegations.
In a three-page statement released Wednesday, the school states some of the plaintiffs themselves were often the ones bullying and intimidating others, others were violating the school's policies banning drugs and alcohol, and that some plaintiffs' scars were self-inflicted.
"It was St. John's preference to vigorously defend itself against these and other false allegations solely in court," read the statement. "Unfortunately, plaintiffs have insisted on grossly exaggerating and fabricating this matter sensationally in an attempt to disparage St. John's and apply public pressure through their lies. St. John's will stand idle no more."
School is naming names
In its statement, the school names two former cadets, noting that both have previously spoken to the news media; others are identified only by their initials, as they are in court documents.
In media interviews and the lawsuit, former cadet Jesse Mactagone has said he was pushed down while running on his first day at the school in August 2011 and that an instructor ordered other students to run over him. Later, in the mess hall, when he couldn't stand without crutches, he said other students carried him outside, dragged him around by his ankles and kicked him in the knees while demanding he stand up.
He was later treated at Salina Regional Health Center for two broken legs before being flown home to California for additional treatment.
The school's Wednesday statement says Mactagone was not beaten but, rather, was "injured in an accidental fall" while on a run and was checked and treated by the school's nursing staff.
"As soon as the school realized the more serious nature of his injuries, Jesse was immediately transported to the hospital for treatment," the school states.
Bound with duct tape?
A photo of former cadet Michael Kelly lying on a floor and bound with duct tape was staged, the school says.
"Witnesses are expected to testify (at an upcoming trial) that it was then-cadet Michael Kelly's ... own idea to have his classmates bind him with tape to make it appear he was being restrained against his will and send a photo to his mother in an attempt to portray abuse so she would withdraw him from the school," St. John's states.
As to cuts and burns on Kelly's body, St. John's says they were self-inflicted, and that he was "repeatedly reprimanded" and given counseling for self-mutilation while at the school, and that professional counseling was recommended.
As for the four newest plaintiffs, St. John's says one came to the school after having been suspended from three other schools, "was disciplined for instigating fights with other cadets, for self-mutilation, for barricading himself in his barracks and putting his fist through a window," injuring his hand.
A second cadet's claim that he was branded is not backed up by the school's video surveillance system, the school says, while another was disciplined for "repeated reports that he was bullying and intimidating other students."
The fourth was disciplined for "multiple drug violations" while at St. John's, the school's statement says.
In all four cases, the school said, the nearly $30,000 tuition was not refunded to the cadets' parents.
And more generally, the school stated, "Multiple plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit were either dismissed or allowed to withdraw in lieu of dismissal for violating the school's drug and alcohol policies and for multiple violations of the school's personal code of conduct."
-- Reporter Mike Strand can be reached at 822-1418 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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