Education

Whistleblower who leaked video of student’s injury settles lawsuit with Muscogee County schools

Surveillance video shows Montravious Thomas being carried from MCSD school after incident

Video and an incident report were leaked to All on Georgia by “sources in the school system” and posted on the site.
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Video and an incident report were leaked to All on Georgia by “sources in the school system” and posted on the site.

The whistleblower who leaked the video that led to a $25 million lawsuit by a separate plaintiff against the Muscogee County School District has settled his case with the district.

Eddie Powell was the assistant principal in charge of the district’s program for students with severe discipline violations on the day, three years ago, when a 13-year-old boy allegedly was body-slammed five times by a contracted behavior specialist.

Powell has agreed to drop his lawsuit against the school district in exchange for $305,000 and resigning from the district, effective Dec. 31, 2021, according to documents the Ledger-Enquirer received from the school district in response to a Georgia Open Records Act request.

In a statement to the L-E, the school district denies any liability in the case and said the district’s liability carrier, which is paying the amount, settled to avoid the expense and time of a trial.

Powell is the assistant principal of Midland Academy now, but he worked at the alternative school program called AIM (Achievement, Integrity and Maturity) in the now-closed Edgewood Student Services Center on Sept. 12, 2016.

That’s when Bryant Mosley allegedly restrained Montravious Thomas so severely, and staff allegedly neglected to get him medical treatment, that the teen’s right leg was amputated below the knee a month later.

The Columbus Police Department’s investigation concluded in April 2018 and resulted in no criminal charges.

During a July 2017 public forum about the controversy, John Thomas, then District 2 representative on the Muscogee County School Board, called Powell “the hero of the story” for leaking the surveillance video to the website AllOnGeorgia.

The video shows Mosley carrying Montravious to the bus, although it doesn’t show any of the confrontation in the classroom.

Citing privacy laws, MCSD has refused the Ledger-Enquirer’s public records request to release the classroom video.

The Ledger-Enqirer’s lawsuit against MCSD to obtain that video is pending in Muscogee County Superior Court.

Powell filed his lawsuit in September 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, with Judge Clay Land presiding. Powell, who is black, accused the school district of racial discrimination, retaliation for having complained about racial discrimination, and a violation of the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act.

Allegations

Since May 2015, the lawsuit says, Powell has applied for 18 principal positions within MCSD but hasn’t been granted an interview, despite having six years of experience as an administrator in the district and receiving a 4.6 out of 5 on his most recent performance evaluation, as of the lawsuit’s filing.

In September 2016, the lawsuit says, “Dr. Powell was harassed by MCSD when he refused to rescind a write-up on, upon information and belief, a Caucasian teacher for her failure to report a student’s injury that occurred in her classroom at the AIM Edgewood Student Services Center alternative school.”

Powell was the highest-ranking official at the AIM program that day because principal Reginald Griffin was absent, so the teacher was obligated to report the student’s injury to Powell, per MCSD policy, the lawsuit says.

On or about Oct. 4, 2016, the lawsuit says, Melanie Slaton, one of the lawyers representing MCSD, visited AIM and asked Powell to remove the “letter of concern” he issued to the teacher. If he refused, the lawsuit says, “one would be written on him.”

Subsequently, the lawsuit says, “Dr. Powell started experiencing ongoing harassment from the school principal, Reginald Griffin, and MCSD.” The environment caused Powell “intense and severe stress,” the lawsuit says, and his doctor placed him on medical leave on Nov. 18, 2016.

In May 3, the lawsuit says, MCSD human resources chief Kathy Tessin told Powell, without explanation, he was being demoted to school counselor, his pay would be cut and “he should seek employment in another county if he wanted to be an administrator.”

That same month, Superintendent David Lewis rescinded the demotion and read Powell a letter stating he would give him “one more opportunity” in a leadership position. But the superintendent also stated, according to the lawsuit, “I expect to not have law enforcement called in the future over interpersonal conflict or perceived verbal threats. This has occurred three times in the past prior to your assignment to AIM. I will not have this occur again in the future.”

Lewis told Powell in the conclusion of his May 18 letter, attached as an exhibit in the lawsuit, “I will hold you accountable to improved human resource management in this next assignment, and I will expect your principal and Regional Chief to be candid with you on any behavior that is counterproductive to my goal of effective leadership in this school system.”

These statements, the lawsuit says, “reinforced” Powell’s understanding that he was being placed on probation and being monitored.

On May 24, 2017, Powell filed a complaint with the EEOC, attached to the lawsuit as an exhibit, accusing MCSD of racially discriminating and retaliating against him. Also attached to the lawsuit is the EEOC’s June 6 response, which says “your allegations were not supported” and “you will have to file a private lawsuit if you want to continue to challenge the alleged discrimination.”

The lawsuit Powell filed didn’t mention a dollar amount, but Powell sought: lost wages and lost fringe benefits; compensatory and punitive damages, including mental and emotional distress, back pay and front pay; and attorney’s fees and costs.

Response

MCSD communications director Mercedes Parham told the L-E in an email Tuesday evening, “The Court dismissed the majority of Dr. Powell’s claims against the School District. As to the two claims that remain after summary judgment, the School District denies any liability on those claims. However, the liability carrier for the School District made a business decision to settle those two remaining claims, to save the time and expense of a trial, and the liability carrier is paying the settlement amount. The District notes that there has been no findings of liability on the part of the School District.”

The settlement calls for the Georgia School Boards Association Risk Management Fund to issue the sum of $305,000, made payable to the Montgomery, Alabama, law firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles.

Powell and his lawyers could not reached for comment.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.

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