A former football player at the University of the Cumberlands claims in a federal lawsuit that the school failed to protect him from a beating by two people on campus and abandoned him while he recovered from serious injuries.
The Williamsburg school billed Zane A. Parker for $1,216 in tuition and fees for the spring 2016 semester, which he couldn’t attend because of his injuries, according to his attorney.
Parker’s lawsuit seeks $5 million in compensation and $3 million for punitive damages.
Parker, who lives in Kingsport, Tenn., is still recovering and is not in school, said his attorney, Russell W. Adkins of Kingsport.
Never miss a local story.
“He’s slowly trying to rebuild his life,” Adkins said of Parker.
UC spokeswoman Leslie Ryser said the attack on Parker was unfortunate and distressing for the entire campus, but that the university did not cause his injuries.
“University of the Cumberlands strives to provide a safe, positive learning environment for students,” Ryser said. “Historically, our campus has been very safe as evidenced by our low crime rates.”
Ryser said the school is launching a thorough investigation of the claims in the lawsuit, but can’t respond to specific allegations outside court. The school will fully present its case in court, she said.
Parker’s lawsuit said the university’s football staff recruited him in 2013 when he was a standout senior at Cherokee High School in Rogersville, Tenn. Parker was assured that UC “instilled and embodied” values that exceeded those of secular institutions, the lawsuit says.
UC is a private liberal-arts college affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
The school’s website also made assurances that the safety of students and employees was of the highest importance and that UC had policies to make sure students were in “the safest environment possible,” according to the suit.
Parker started school in August 2014. The same year, UC expelled a football player named Devin Preyer who had a history of violent and criminal behavior that the school knew about or should have known about, the lawsuit says.
Preyer was friends with another player named Devonte Rozier. Before Preyer was expelled, the two had “openly flaunted their violent tendencies and posted Instagram messages touting robbery and violence,” the lawsuit says.
The complaint alleges the school banned Preyer from campus but did not enforce the decision. He remained a fixture on campus and attended Senior Night festivities with Rozier on Nov. 7, 2015, the lawsuit said.
Preyer and Rozier allegedly attacked Parker on Dec. 4, 2015, as he was walking near a residence hall with his laptop in a backpack. The two punched and kicked and knocked him to the ground, then continued stomping on him, his complaint charges.
Preyer stole Parker’s computer and threatened to shoot the injured student when he tried to get up from the ground, according to the lawsuit.
Another student later found Parker lying on the sidewalk and a group of students took him to the campus medical clinic. After an “undue delay” in getting an ambulance, a student drove Parker to the hospital in Corbin, where the staff had him airlifted to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, the lawsuit says.
Parker suffered an orbital fracture that caused his right eyeball to sink into his head and a concussion and closed-head injury, according to his complaint.
He has endured a “grueling physical, mental and emotional recovery,” the suit says.
Administrators and football staffers came to see Parker the first night he was in the hospital in Knoxville, but after the extent of his injuries was clear, UC turned its back on Parker and his family in their time of need, the lawsuit claims.
UC allegedly banned the football staff and other university employees from any contact with Parker.
On the other hand, when Rozier couldn’t make bond to get out of jail, an assistant football coach offered to sign a surety bond for him and let him stay at the coach’s house, the lawsuit says.
When Parker’s father went to UC to seek a meeting about the school’s support for Rozier, administrators denied his request and he was told to leave, the lawsuit says.
Parker couldn’t finish his tests for the fall 2015 semester and couldn’t return for the spring 2016 semester because he was at home recovering.
UC sent Parker a notice that he wasn’t making adequate progress toward graduation and billed him tuition it claims he owes, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit argues that UC failed to provide a safe environment, including by failing to keep Preyer off campus; by not adequately supervising or disciplining Rozier; and by not properly investigating a break-in at Parker’s room that the suit says Preyer and Rozier committed.
The school also breached its duty to provide a safe environment for Parker and failed to properly support him after the attack, the lawsuit says.
A grand jury indicted Preyer and Rozier on charges of assaulting and robbing Parker, Whitley Circuit Clerk Fary Barton said.
Rozier pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, probated for five years, Barton said.
Preyer failed to show up for court and a warrant has been issued for him, Barton said.