“We’ve carefully looked at the videos that were made of the incident in question and we see there was probably a dozen or more ways this vice principal could have handled himself besides punching a 15-year-old girl in the face repeatedly with a closed fist” Attorney Eric Artrip
by: Kait Newsum, Jess Grotjahn, Brian Lawson, Carson Burns
Posted: Mar 21, 2023 / 05:33 PM CDT
MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — A December altercation on a Madison City Schools bus, caught on student videos showing a James Clemens vice principal appearing to strike a 15-year-old female student, has led her family to file a lawsuit against him, the school’s former principal and the school board.
That student, listed as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, is suing the Madison City Schools Board of Education, former James Clemens Principal Brian Clayton and Vice Principal Jason Watts stemming from an incident in December.
Several students on a school bus parked at James Clemens High School began filming when an argument turned physical between the female student and Watts.
According to the lawsuit, the student was in special education with an Individual Education Plan.
The lawsuit claims she stepped onto the bus around 4 p.m. on December 14, 2022, to head home. She sat down next to a friend and the lawsuit says another student stood up and started yelling at her.
Clayton the then-Principal, was standing at the front of the bus watching the exchange, and a School Resource Officer (SRO) was not called, the suit claims.
Watts, a vice principal, then approached both students, according to the lawsuit. The student who is said to have started the argument with Jane Doe, allegedly punched her in the stomach before being escorted off the bus by Watt, the suit claims.
When Jane Doe attempted to get off the bus, Watts is accused of grabbing her wrist and pushing her back into one of the bus seats. As she was seated and Watts was standing, he pushed his forearm into Doe’s face pushing her head into the back of the seat, according to the lawsuit.
The student then bit Watts’ arm in response, and the SRO was still not called, the suit says.
The lawsuit argues, “In retaliation and apparently now at a complete loss over his emotions … Watts began punching Jane Doe in the face with a closed fist.”
The day after the incident, Madison City Schools Superintendent Ed Nichols held a press conference where he gave their description of the incident and provided photos of a bite mark on Watts’ arm.
Here is a statement from Nichols on Dec. 15, 2022, the day after the incident.
“[The administrator was] hit 6-10 times to the back of their head. They were also bitten and it broke the administrator’s jacket and broke skin. [That administrator] says the video that is out only shows about 3 seconds of a 3-minute event. The administrator after being assaulted felt the need to defend themself and did so. He said he believes the administrators should have an opportunity to defend themselves if they feel like they are at risk of being harmed or further injured. The administrators followed through the protocol for situations like this very well until they were being assaulted.”
DR. ED NICHOLS, MADISON CITY SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT
At the time, Nichols said no disciplinary action would be taken against the administrators, “I’m never going to tell someone [that] if they are being assaulted, that they can’t defend themselves from further harm.”
The Madison Police Department investigated the incident and told News 19 no charges have been filed in the case.
No disciplinary action for James Clemens administrator ‘at this time’ after video of bus altercation with student spreads on social media
The lawsuit continued its depiction of the incident as follows:
While Defendant Watts was assaulting Miss Doe, Defendant Clayton continued to
stand in the front of the bus. He did not stop Defendant Watts. He did not assist Miss Doe. He did not call the SRO. He stood there.
With Jane Doe still seated and Defendants Watts still standing, he punched her in
the head twice more, apparently with the intent to continue assaulting her.
At this point, a courageous young man, Minor Z, acted to stop the assault on his
classmate. He jumped on Defendant Watt’s back, screamed at him to stop, and yelled “you should not hit a woman!”
Defendant Watts violently turned on Minor Z, pointed his finger in his face, and, in
a fit of rage, screamed something unintelligible.
It was around this time that Defendant Clayton finally decided to do something. His
response, however, was inexplicable. He escorted Defendant Watts from the scene so that pictures could be taken of the bite mark and asked the SRO to arrest Miss Doe.
Jane Doe exited the bus and attempted to go to the school nurse’s office.
The SRO then handcuffed Jane Doe and put her into a deputy’s car. She left JCHS
in the back of a police vehicle with a severe headache.
Mary Doe was notified by a JCHS representative that her daughter had been taken
to the police station.
However, the JCHS representative did not tell Ms. Doe that Defendant Watts had
punched her daughter in the face repeatedly or that she required medical attention.
In an attempt to “vilify” the student, Clayton is accused in the lawsuit of sending pictures of the bite mark on Watts’ arm to local media.
“Clayton concealed from the media that his assistant principal had punched the 15-year-old special education girl in the face repeatedly while he stood there,” the lawsuit claims.
Following the December 15 news conference, News 19 filed an Alabama Open Records Act request with Madison City Schools asking for its school bus videos from the incident. News 19 made the request based on the idea that it could be helpful for the community to see the full incident play out on video.
News 19’s request was denied.
In an email reply, Nichols said, “the bus security video in question depicts a student or students who may be charged with violation of policy. Because the video may be presented as evidence in a disciplinary action it would constitute an educational record of the student(s) depicted. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits public disclosure of educational records under such circumstances without the consent of the parent.”
While the student accused of punching Jane Doe in the stomach was allegedly not punished, the student who jumped on Watts received an in-school suspension. Jane Doe was immediately suspended and is currently in an alternative school setting, the lawsuit says.
Jane Doe is requesting a jury trial to determine the compensation for “physical and mental anguish and severe emotional distress” suffered since the incident.
The lawsuit claims a violation of Title IX, which states that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
A violation of the 14th Amendment, along with claims of negligence, assault and recklessness/wantonness were also included in the lawsuit.
News 19 reached out to Madison City Schools for a response to the lawsuit. A district spokesperson replied, “Madison City Schools does not comment on pending litigation or personnel issues.”