09/08/04 — Hazing suit proceeds against coach, board

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Hazing suit proceeds against coach, board

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on September 8, 2004 2:02 PM

NEW BERN -- A former Rosewood High School principal and the Wayne County schools superintendent have been removed from a $40 million hazing lawsuit. But a judge refused to dismiss the suit against a wrestling coach and the school board.

The suit was brought by the parents of a former 115-pound wrestler who was allegedly hazed by teammates.

Richard Sauls, the former principal, and Dr. Steven D. Taylor, the superintendent, were removed Tuesday by Judge Terrence Boyle after a hearing in U.S. District Court.

But William H. Edmundson II, the Rosewood wrestling coach, and the Wayne County Board of Education and its chairman, George Moye, remained as defendants.

Boyle refused to dismiss the suit filed by James R. and Deborah A. Meeker on behalf of their son, Bob, now an 18-year-old freshman at East Carolina University. They say their son's constitutional and civil rights had been violated.

The suit contends that Bob Meeker, then a 15-year-old freshman, had been hazed by teammates at practices, on the bus or elsewhere, even in front of students not on the team.

The teammates slapped Meeker's stomach on 25 occasions in what is called a "red belly," the suit says, until he cried. Edmundson once told the wrestler that he would get "red-bellied" for a particular conduct or infraction, the suit says. The parents complained to the coach and to Sauls, but they say nothing was done, according to the suit.

On Jan. 11, 2001, Bob Meeker went to school, brandished a tool and shouted at his assailants. He was expelled and transferred to an alternative school for delinquent students, although he had been an honor student, the suit says.

One of the defendants' lawyers, Deborah Spagner of Raleigh, argued Tuesday that the facts of the case did not rise to the level of a federal violation.

At one point, Boyle asked one of the Meekers' lawyers, Thomas F. Loflin III of Durham, for his most favorable facts. When Loftin stumbled, Boyle said, "Let me walk you through it. He was singled out for retaliatory conduct at the direction and control of the coach. It was not a universal practice."

"He was selected and chosen," Loflin said. "But there was reason to believe some others also were subjected to the same thing."

Loflin said the Meekers had alleged that Sauls and Taylor were responsible because of their failures to train the coach on what the school board's policy was. But Boyle said they were not implicated.

The Meekers' other lawyer, Glenn Barfield of Goldsboro, argued that the school board should be kept as a defendant under state law. Boyle agreed.

The schools now have 20 days to file a written answer to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed first in Wayne County Superior Court, but it was dropped and then refiled in federal court.