Federal program targets online child predators
A Crawford Middle School student who reported a para-educator for texting her about bestiality and other sexual acts was retaliated against by Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk and school administrators by being sent to an alternative program, a lawsuit alleges.
The mother of a 13-year-old girl identified in court documents only as S.M. on Thursday filed a lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court against Caulk, Crawford Principal Mike Jones, Suzann Shaver, the now retired assistant principal at Crawford and Crawford para-educator Noel Ball. The Herald-Leader is not naming the mother to protect the identity of the child.
The mother said in a statement provided by her attorneys S. Wade Yeoman and Corey Ann Finn on Thursday that “No parent would ever want to see their child go through the nightmare my daughter has endured. Fayette Public Schools allowed an educator to prey on her, assault her with filth, and then failed to protect her when she had the bravery to speak out. “
“I would like to see justice for my daughter as we try to get her life back on track. I’d wish the same for any student who was treated this way,” the mother’s statement said.
In response to the lawsuit, Lexington attorney Bryan H. Beauman of the firm Sturgill, Turner Barker & Moloney, who is representing the school district in the lawsuit said, “The Fayette County Public Schools takes seriously any allegation of mistreatment of a student. As soon as an allegation is reported, immediate measures are taken to ensure the health and welfare of the student. The school system did so in this case and will address the specifics of this situation through our filings in this lawsuit.”
Ball is an employee of Fayette County Public Schools and a para-educator at Crawford Middle School who was allowed to work closely with S.M., a student at Crawford, when he helped her with an application for a career and technical program — a Locust Trace Agriscience Center veterinary internship, the lawsuit alleged.
Ball abused his position of power when he began texting S.M., which led to Snapchat messages, “the nature of which were so appalling Ball has been charged with the felonious use of an electronic means to induce minor to engage in sexual activities,” the lawsuit said.
Fayette Circuit Court criminal records say Ball has pleaded not guilty to a March 25 felony charge of prohibited use of an electronic communication system to procure a minor in a sex offense.
The case is scheduled for an Aug. 30 hearing. Lexington attorney Derek Gordon, who is representing Ball in the criminal case, told the Herald-Leader Thursday that “our position is that he’s innocent and we are progressing to trial.”
Despite having access to all of the texts and Snapchats sent by Ball, Caulk and Jones have not terminated Ball who remains on paid administrative leave, the lawsuit alleged. School district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall, however, said Ball is no longer employed by the district.
State Child Protective Services officials have determined that S.M. is a victim of sexual abuse, the lawsuit said.
S.M. wanted to participate in the Locust Trace Animal Science program , a veterinary program, when she began high school. Middle school students in Fayette County may apply to Locust Trace and the application requires each student to write an essay, the lawsuit said.
Ball, 40, is a para-educator at Crawford who primarily worked with special needs students. After regular school hours, he also assisted students, such as S.M., with their essays for the Locust Trace Veterinary Program after school.
According to the lawsuit:
On or about May 8, 2018, Ball began texting with S.M., which he knew was inappropriate. He told her “to be careful who she tells about texting me.” Ball continued to text with the girl. On May 30, 2018, he asked S.M. if she told her parents about their texting and he requested she delete their texts.
Ball continuously engaged S.M. in text conversations throughout the summer of 2018, steering the conversation to be sexual in nature over that time. After several months of grooming, on or about Aug. 25, 2018, Ball requested to shift the text conversation to Snapchat because “Snapchat deletes automatically.”
Once Ball was on Snapchat, the messages he sent became more graphic. For example, Ball told S.M. “there’s gonna be a time that you will be horny and want to trade pics with a guy, just don’t pass me by,” the lawsuit said.
Ball also told S.M. that he was there for if she ever wanted to see a guy “doing stuff.”
Ball then proceeded to inquire if S.M., who was interested in a future as a veterinarian, would like to have sexual relations with a dog, which he said turned him on. Ball attempted to share a bestiality video with S.M. via Snapchat, saying they could watch it together, the lawsuit said.
Ball then asked S.M. how often she masturbates and told her about a place where they could “get away some day.”
Although she had started to fear that if she told on Ball she would be penalized and would not be able to attend the veterinary program, S.M. shared the Snapchats with the principal of Crawford Middle School, Mike Jones, on or about Sept. 17, 2018, the lawsuit said.
After doing so, S.M. began to be bullied by other students at Crawford because she had reported the events, the lawsuit said.
Shaver, then the associate principal at Crawford, admonished S.M. not to discuss Ball with other students to keep them from being uncomfortable, the lawsuit alleged. Shaver did not address the behavior of the students who bullied S.M. The school district website indicates that Shaver retired earlier this year, the lawsuit said.
Neither Caulk nor Jones gave S.M. the option of transferring schools, despite the frequent bullying she faced at Crawford, the lawsuit said.
In March 2019, the lawsuit alleged, Caulk and Jones authorized the suspension of S.M. for 10 days and subsequent placement in the MLK Jr. Academy for Excellence, after S.M. brought a “dangerous instrument” to school because of the bullying she was enduring and out of fear that Ball would retaliate against her for reporting “his immoral, heinous, and illegal behavior” to school officials. At no time did either Caulk or Jones inform S.M. or her parents of her right to appeal her suspension, the lawsuit said.
The MLK Jr. Academy for Excellence is an alternative school for students “whose conduct prevents them from succeeding in their regular school,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges the move to MLK Academy was retaliatory against for S.M. for having reported a teacher for sexual harassment
“Caulk, Jones, and Shaver re-victimized S.M. by sending her away and treating her as the problem, rather than holding the true party accountable,” the lawsuit said, and caused her severe emotional injury.
The mother is asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.