A former student at Martinsville High School has sued the school’s superintendent, principal and resource officer, charging they failed to protect her from an attack that had been threatened.
Myajah Dillard, a sophomore last year at the school, on Tuesday sued Martinsville Public Schools Superintendent Zebedee Talley Jr., MHS Principal Ajamu “Aji” Dixon and Shane McPeek, a member of the Martinsville Police Department who serves as the resource officer for the high school.
Her suit, filed in Martinsville Circuit Court, seeks at least $1.25 million in damages for events that allegedly occurred in early September 2018, when she says she was threatened by a group of female students and then beaten by one of them. She is the daughter of Dante and LaTasha Long. The lawsuit was filed by attorney Glen Franklin Koontz of Berryville.
The lawsuit describes Myajah as “a good academic student, well-liked by her classmates, and active in school activities.” She was a cheerleader for both the football and basketball teams.
The suit in specific detail describes the events that Myajah claims include her being beaten despite having warned school officials about threats. The lawsuit presents only one view of those events. The Martinsville Bulletin is not naming the juveniles the lawsuit names, at least of one of whom has faced criminal charges related to these events.
“We’re not going to comment in detail on litigation involving a juvenile, but we certainly deny any liability in this matter,” said Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday, who also is the attorney for the school board.
The sequence of events
At about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 1, 2018, the lawsuit alleges, Myajah received a communication via the social media application Snapchat in which a fellow MHS student allegedly sent a video that showed that student and three others “issuing vulgar, profane and violent threats against Myajah. Specifically, the students threatened to ‘beat up’ Myajah when all returned to school following the Labor Day holiday.”
Myajah shared the video with her parents, and shortly after midnight on Sept. 2, LaTasha Long telephoned the aunt of one of the students and informed her of the video and threats. The aunt promised to speak with that student’s mother about the video, the lawsuit alleges.
That same evening, LaTasha Long texted the mother of a second student concerning the video, and that student denied all knowledge of the video and any threats.
On Sept. 3, Labor Day, LaTasha Long spoke in person with Donna Dillard, vice chair of the Martinsville School Board, about the threats to Myajah. In Long’s presence, Dillard telephoned Talley and informed him of the situation, the lawsuit alleges.
At about 6:48 p.m. on Sept. 3, LaTasha Long spoke by phone with Talley and provided him with the names of the female students involved and all the details of the threats made against Myajah.
LaTasha Long said Talley promised to contact the parents and the involved students personally and get back to her, the suit alleges.
“To date, Superintendent Talley has never communicated again to Mrs. Long about this matter,” it says.
On Sept. 4 LaTasha and Dante Long arrived at Martinsville High School at 7:45 a.m. to meet with Dixon. The Longs “twice showed the Snapchat video to … Dixon, provided him with the students’ names, the names of the adults involved, the nature and timing of the threats, and informed him of their conversations with the adults, Mrs. Dillard and … Talley. The Longs informed … Dixon that they expected him to take decisive action to protect Myajah,” the lawsuit alleges.
“…Dixon assured the Longs that he understood the seriousness of the matter, and that he would take decisive action to protect Myajah from the students who threatened her. He promised to speak with the students and to contact the students’ parents concerning the threats,” the lawsuit alleges.
After they met with Dixon, but before they left the high school, the Longs said they spoke with McPeek and provided him with the details of the threats, their conversations with Dillard and Talley and their meeting with Dixon.
“Officer McPeek promised the Longs that he would act to ensure that no harm came to Myajah from the students who threatened her,” the lawsuit alleges.
On Sept. 5, Dixon telephoned LaTasha Long and told her he had spoken with the students and with Monique Clay to “get everyone on common ground.” (The lawsuit doesn’t identify Monique Clay.)
Dixon didn’t explain what “get everyone on common ground” meant, nor did he advise LaTasha Long of any other actions he had taken to ensure Myajah’s safety, the lawsuit alleges. It adds, “furthermore … Dixon never spoke to [Myajah] about the threats , or made any effort to explain to her the ‘common ground.’”
On Sept. 6, Henry County sheriff’s deputies arrested a Martinsville High School student who allegedly had sent the Snapchat threats of violence to Myajah, and they transported the student to a hearing at the Henry County Juvenile Domestic Relations & District Court, the lawsuit alleges.
Because the criminal case involves juveniles, information about charges and court proceedings is limited.
Henry County Sheriff’s Maj. Eric T. Winn confirmed that on Sept. 4 the sheriff’s office had investigated “a complaint that was received regarding threats made over a computer.”
He said that the investigation resulted in a juvenile detention order being obtained through the Henry County Juvenile Intake Office.
“The juvenile, a 14-year-old female who resides in Henry County, was arrested and transported to the Henry County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for a court appearance,” he said.
Judge Susan Deatherage presided over that student’s hearing on Sept. 6, the suit states.
“Judge Deatherage appeared prepared to detain [the student] until Principal Dixon – who was present at the hearing – stated that ‘I guarantee that Mr. Long’s daughter is safe at school.’ … Dixon further stated that he had spoken with all the girl students involved in the threats and that the matter was settled. … Dixon’s sworn courtroom testimony was false,” the suit alleges.
Dante Long was present in the courtroom and witnessed Dixon’s statements. “Based upon … Dixon’s statements, Judge Deatherage did not detain [the student],” the lawsuit alleges.
Upon leaving the courtroom, Dante Long received a phone call informing him Myajah “had been brutally attacked and beaten” that very morning at Martinsville High School by one of the other students allegedly involved in the threats made on the video.
The suit said she was transported to the emergency room at Sovah-Martinsville (although the suit refers to it as Martinsville Memorial Hospital), where she received treatment for facial and scalp contusions and abrasions. “Her face was grotesquely swollen as a result of the beating, and she suffered two … black eyes, and other bruises. X-rays were taken to check for broken bones,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit said she spent three weeks at home, out of school, recuperating from her injuries and that she suffered from “sleeplessness, severe headaches, nervousness, anxiety, and generally withdrew from human interaction. She lost interest in her normal activities. She had difficulty eating and also suffered from a lack of appetite. She cried regularly, without any apparent reason other than her despair and humiliation suffered at the hands of her attacker.”
Rather than return to Martinsville High School, she transferred to Magna Vista High School in Ridgeway. The suit said she has not returned to the MHS campus since her attack.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants had a duty to ensure that MHS was a safe place for Myajah and had a duty to ensure that “reasonable and prudent” steps were taken to ensure that students were not harmed by others and to prevent the identified students from having an opportunity to harm Myajah.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of gross negligence (including “complete neglect of her safety”) and willful and wanton negligence (including refusing to uphold their duties “to act prudently and with reasonable care to protect her from known threats, timely communicated in great detail to them by [Myajah’s] parents, and for which video proof was shown to them.”
The lawsuit seeks at least $900,000 in compensatory damages and at least $350,000 in punitive damages, plus court costs and any other relief the court may deem just.
Talley wrote in an email: “I have no comment.”
Dixon and McPeek did not respond to requests for comment.
Martinsville Deputy Police Chief Rob Fincher wrote in an email: “It would be improper for the department or any of it[s] members to make comment on any active civil suits, especially those involving juveniles. Therefore, all questions or requests for comments regarding this issue must be directed through the Martinsville city attorney, Eric Monday.”
Said Monday: This suit will be defended via the MCPS insurance carrier, who will assign an attorney to it. Since it was just filed and we just learned about it and notified our insurer, no attorney has been assigned yet.”
Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.