The mother of a former Great Bend High School student who was allegedly attacked by fellow swim team members on a school activity bus is suing Great Bend USD 428, the school board and the parents of four students.
Michelle O’Neil said the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Ellsworth County District Court is intended as a message, one she hopes will result in a safer environment for children still in the district. Two coaches, a bus driver and three USD 428 administrators are also named as defendants.
Her son is now being home-schooled and will require therapy for emotional damage that resulted from, according to the complaint, a “vicious, unprovoked attack.”
O’Neil’s son was a GBHS freshman and was on the swim team on Saturday Feb. 6, when the team participated in a swim meet in Manhattan. According to the complaint, during the return bus trip four juveniles physically attacked her son. They restrained him, attempted to remove his clothing, and tried to spread his buttocks and insert various objects into his rectum.
Bus driver Marilyn Holinde, head coach Steve Beaumont and assistant coach Keith Moeder were on the bus and learned of the attack near Ellsworth. The bus was stopped in Ellsworth for a brief period of time and ultimately continued on to Great Bend High School. No reports were made to law enforcement.
“They didn’t even call the police,” O’Neil told the Great Bend Tribune on Thursday. “I did.”
The suit seeks compensation for damages in excess of $75,000 on each of five counts, plus $5,000 in damages per family from the parents listed as defendants. That brings the total requested to more than $395,000, plus punitive compensation.
Great Bend attorney Brock McPherson, who represents O’Neil, said the counts basically stem from the defendants’ failure to do their duty. The suit spells that out as a duty to provide a safe learning environment, to hire competent staff, to provide proper supervision, and to report a suspected crime against a minor.
O’Neil said school officials did little following the incident.
“I asked them many questions and they wouldn’t talk to me,” she said. “They forced this lawsuit because they wouldn’t even talk to us.”
Although she is wracked with her own feelings of guilt for sending her son to GBHS and encouraging him to participate in sports, O’Neil said, “I can’t change what happened to my son.” Her children are no longer in the district but she worries about other children. “My friends’ kids are not safe,” she said. “We need policy changes.”
Mother says USD 428 refused to act
The lawsuit describes how O’Neil attempted to get answers from school officials following the incident. On Monday, Feb. 8, she visited with GBHS Principal Tim Friess and Activities Director David Meter, both named as defendants, as is Superintendent Brad Reed. The next day she was unable to contact Friess; Meter said the matter had been fully investigated and was closed.
“In fact two of the aggressors were allowed to participate in the Kansas State High School Activities Association swim meet on Feb. 19 and 20,” the complaint states.
In April, the Ellsworth County Attorney filed unlawful restraint and battery charges against two members of the swim team for their alleged roles in the Feb. 6 incident. Also in April, the Barton County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had completely investigated allegations of another bus incident. In that case a USD 428 bus was transporting the GBHS swim team home from a meet in Salina. Sheriff Brian Bellendir said the BCSO investigation indicated that probable cause existed for charges to be filed against members of the GBHS swim team.
What comes next
The complaint filed by O’Neil requests a jury trial.
The defendants have not yet had time to respond to the complaint. The Tribune attempted to contact Superintendent Brad Reed on Thursday evening and was told there will be no response from the district at this time.
Subpoenas from Ellsworth County will go to the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, which will be in charge of delivering them to defendants in Barton County.
The information from The BCSO investigation was forwarded to the Barton County Attorney.
More wording from the actual complaint can be found on our website. Click here.