A former St. Martin Middle School special education teacher and the Jackson County School District have settled a lawsuit over the assault of a disabled student on a school bus.
The terms of the settlement are confidential and pending final approval from a Jackson County Chancery judge because the victim, then 14, is a minor who is severely disabled.
Gulfport attorney Michael Crosby filed the civil suit on behalf of the now-17-year-old girl’s guardians — grandfather Thomas Pearce and great-grandmother Barbara Ledet.
The lawsuit accused former St. Martin Middle School teacher Kerri Ann Nettles and the school district of using excessive force, negligence and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
No other civil litigation is pending against anyone else involved, including former St. Martin Middle School bus driver and teacher’s aide, Antioinette Jane Raymond.
“My client and her guardians want to make sure this never happens again,” Crosby said. “And we want to put a light on what we perceive as life-threatening problems. In today’s world, the only way to make positive changes is with money and when money has to be paid, then people have to make changes. We expect the county to address the problems and listen to its own employees when they express concern and fear regarding what they are doing.”
A pending trial
The Sun Herald broke the story on the assault in April 2018 that included exclusive video footage of Nettles and Raymond dealing with the disabled girl.
Nettles’ criminal case has been resolved.
Raymond is still awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency, abuse or neglect of a child and simple assault in connection with the alleged attack in the 2014-15 school year.
In video footage, Raymond threatens to send the girl to jail, choke her and kill her if she doesn’t shut up and stop moving around in her seat on the school bus. Raymond later rushed over to the girl’s seat and sat on her lap.
“Now, go ahead, move, move,” Raymond shouts. “Can you move now? Huh? You going to shut that mouth, huh?, You going to holler anymore?
“You do it again, I’m going to warn you again. You better shut your mouth. You hear me? You hear me?”
The student later calls out for her Paw Paw and says she wants to go home. Raymond told the girl her family was gone.
After many delays, Raymond is now set to go to trial in November.
She decided to go to trial after Circuit Judge Robert Krebs watched video footage of the alleged assault and told Raymond he had no intention of following the former prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation.
Attorney Stanley Alexander, director of the public integrity division of the state Attorney General’s Office, has since been appointed as special prosecutor.
A fine, but no prison time
Like Raymond, Nettles was indicted on similar misdemeanor offenses.
But Nettles pleaded no contest to the charges last year and was fined $3,000 and given a six-month suspended prison sentence.
In the surveillance video footage, Nettles is heard screaming at the student before twice putting a rag in the girl’s mouth to get her to quiet down.
Nettles’ lawyer Fred Feeney said she had asked St. Martin school officials for more help with the special education students she was assigned to teach.
“She did ask for assistance repeatedly and those requests were not fulfilled,” Feeney said. “She did not get the help she thought she needed.”
In addition, he said, Nettles was dealing with other issues in St. Martin.
“There were issues with the classroom, the facilities, and with the number of students and severity of their impairments,” Feeney said. “As I understand it, at times they had some kind of water leaks, some electrical issues and parts of the classroom were not usable or even accessible.”
As for settling the lawsuit, Feeney said: “I think everyone believed it was in their best interest to come to a resolution and not continue the litigation.”
The Sun Herald reached out to the attorney for the Jackson County School District, but did not hear back.