GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Washington County’s school system showed “deliberate indifference” while two Daniel Boone High School (DBHS) football players were allegedly hazed and sexually abused in the summer and fall of 2022, a newly filed federal lawsuit says.
Filed on behalf of athletes called “John Doe” and “John Roe,” the civil suit against the Washington County Department of Education (WCDE) filed Aug. 9 outlines a string of alleged abuses by multiple players between July and November. It mentions video evidence of some assaults and claims hazing was longstanding such that “freshman players are expected to simply endure it as part of a humiliating and dangerous rite of passage.”
The suit claims much of the alleged abuse “was of a sexual nature, including acts of attempted sodomy with a pole, threatened and attempted ‘prostate exams,’ simulated sex acts, multiple sexual assaults and acts of sexual degradation as a form of hazing…”
News Channel 11 reported in February that one former DBHS player had been charged with two counts of assault — offensive touching and three counts of aggravated assault following a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) investigation into the allegations, which surfaced in November 2022.
The lawsuit, filed by Nashville attorneys Gary Blackburn and Bryant Kroll, bases its requests on four counts:
- A violation of Title IX through “deliberate indifference to sexual harassment and assault.”
- A violation of Title XI through “national origin and religious discrimination.”
- Governmental Tort Liability, through a claim WCDE is “not immune from the negligent acts and omissions of its employees.”
- A violation of a federal law 42 USC 1983 through “failure to train” employees adequately.
The suit seeks a declaration that WCDE violated the plaintiffs’ rights, an injunction requiring WCDE “to take all necessary steps” to eliminate what it calls a “hostile environment” at Boone, and financial compensation for both pain and suffering and economic damages. It also asks for attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees and other costs related to the suit.
The Washington County Board of Education and Washington County Schools provided the following emailed statement to News Channel 11:
“We are aware of the recently filed lawsuit. The local rules of the United States District Court prohibit us from commenting on this matter. Our attorneys will respond to the plaintiffs’ allegations on our behalf.
For our part, the Washington County Board of Education, its administrators, and its faculty and staff are dedicated to providing a safe, secure environment for all of our students. We are continuously working to improve our environment, and this lawsuit does not change that commitment.”
The claims and the initial reports
The lawsuit claims that Doe was a freshman at DBHS when, beginning in July 2022, he was victimized by boys on the football team including C.V., whom the lawsuit names and is now a legal adult.
The allegations against C.V. are graphic and include physical abuse against Doe such as cutting him with a switchblade knife, sexual assault of various forms and stealing Doe’s possessions including a cell phone. The suit says C.V. crafted a whip with metal pipes and pieces of wood tied around a rope and, starting around Aug. 22, “began beating the freshman boys, including both plaintiffs.”
By mid-August, the suit claims, after sitting naked from the waist down on Doe’s face in the presence of several players, C.V. “offered to spare him the abuse for a week if he would permit (him) to strike him in his testicles as hard as he could with a broom handle.
“J.D., having no alternative, complied,” the suit says.
Shortly after that, C.V. crafted the whip, which players called “nunchucks,” and beginning around Aug. 22, started a pattern of beating the freshman boys, including both plaintiffs, the suit says.
John Roe, the suit claims, was also experiencing “repetitive physical abuse” from C.V. and others when he fought back Sept. 12, hitting the perpetrator with a dustpan to ward off an attack. The suit says C.V. then dragged him to a corner of the locker room and kept him in a chokehold for about 10 minutes.
Various additional allegations of abuse, most of a sexual nature, are outlined up to Oct. 31, when Roe “quit the football team to free himself of the ongoing harassment and assault.”
The suit claims Roe, who allegedly personally saw the cut to Doe’s arm from the knife, recorded a simulated rape of Doe by C.V. while in a locker room with other players present on Oct. 27.
Some other athletes learned of the alleged assaults and encouraged the two to report “because the hazing and assaults were prevalent and had been considered a ‘rite of passage’ for freshmen for many years,” the suit says.
The activities came front and center to the school system’s attention the weekend of Nov. 5-6. First, a student published a video on TikTok of a player forcing his private parts onto another player’s face (neither Doe nor Roe’s) and video of C.V. “choking (Doe) with a belt…”
That same evening, Nov. 5, Roe told his parents about “the assaults he had endured,” prompting his mother to call Doe’s mother “to inform her about what she had learned.”
The next day, a Sunday, Roe’s mother emailed DBHS’s athletic director, Danny Good, and head football coach Jeremy Jenkins. Principal Tim Campbell later contacted Ms. Roe and requested a copy of the video and pictures her son had.
On Monday, Nov. 7, Campbell interviewed John Doe, John Roe, and four alleged assailants. The same morning, the suit says, Roe’s parents and Doe’s mother filed a report with the Department of Children’s Services (DCS). The parents also filed a police report at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and by that evening investigators from the sheriff’s department and DCS both interviewed the boys separately at their homes.
A ‘culture of hazing?’
The suit alleges that despite what it called “an extensive, infamous history” of hazing within football teams nationally, WCDE exhibited “negligence and abject disregard for the welfare of its students” by not just allowing a culture of hazing but “tacitly endors(ing) such behavior…”
It references alleged abuse that occurred in locker rooms and on team buses and claims “coaches had notice that the acts of assault, hazing, and bullying alleged herein were taking place within the locker rooms because they could hear them taking place.”
Despite policies requiring supervision, the suit says, “these coaches still failed to take any action to stop these assaults or prevent future assaults…”
The suit claims the coaches’ office is close enough to hear “any commotion in either locker room.”
It points to multiple interviews with students who allegedly said they had been hazed in earlier seasons or that “overtly sexual hazing” such as that experienced by the plaintiffs “was merely part of what a freshman athlete must endure to participate.”
The suit lists several additional supports for the allegation of hazing “having historical prevalence” at Boone, including:
- A sophomore player whose mother allegedly told Roe’s mother her son had been assaulted as a freshman;
- Information from a state investigator “that one of the players who was questioned admitted that he had been assaulted when he was a freshman.”
- Information from the same investigator that a player had given a weapon used to beat players to a football coach, which put the coach “on actual notice of harassment, bullying and assaults taking place.”
- Information taken from Title IX interviews about C.V. “terrorizing other children in his grade” and having “a violent propensity known to the administrators at Daniel Boone.”
- Student interviews revealing that hazing was so common “you get used to it” and that players “did not complain to coaches because it was futile and treated as ‘just a thing to expect from older players.'”
The suit calls it “inconceivable” that head coach Jenkins, who was also an assistant principal, didn’t know about the abuse and that he “failed to take action sufficient to prevent them from further abuse.”
The suit claims that an administrative law judge handling the complaints said interviews of the coaches should have been released to the Does and Roes but were not despite both mothers requesting copies of those interviews.
The suit says “a reasonable inference can be drawn … that these interviews will also prove that the Defendant had prior knowledge of peer-on-peer harassment occurring among members of the football team.”
The lawsuit claims that the alleged abuse negatively impacted both John Doe and John Roe’s “academic and social experiences” at DBHS and that they experienced social isolation from persistent harassment. It says it limited their participation in school activities and sports so they could avoid the harassers and decreased their ability to concentrate and learn “due to the emotional distress caused by the harassment.”
The suit quotes several WCDE policies, including one requiring supervision by school personnel at all times, including during extracurricular activities. It claims by failing to implement or follow those policies, administrators and coaches created a liability for the school system itself allowing Doe and Roe to be “repeatedly bullied, harassed, and assaulted, in violation of the defendant’s policies.”
It asks for a to-be-determined amount of compensatory damages to Doe and Roe for both pain and suffering and for any past, present or future economic losses suffered as a result of the alleged violations of Title IX and the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act.