Parents plan to sue School Board over child's field trip injuries
A Ellenburg couple has retained a lawyer and
intends to sue the Richland School Board for $500,000 for physical and monetary damages suffered after their child was injured during a school field trip.
Carl and Donna Rutherford of Terrell Street Beach confirmed on Wednesday that they are seeking damages because teacher's aide Michael W. Pearson received no disciplinary
action after injuring their 13-year-old son, Zachary Allen Rutherford.
``Why hasn't the School Board done anything to this guy?'' Carl Rutherford said. ``They're just kissing this off as if it's nothing.''
Under Washington law, before a state agency can be sued, the agency must be officially placed on notice of a party's intent to sue. The agency then has six months in which to respond or offer a settlement before the suit can be filed.
Attorney Mark Frederick, representing the Rutherfords, said School Board Chairwoman Linda Grantham received the notice of intent to sue on Aug. 20, through certified letter.
But both Grantham and School Board attorney Franklin Harrison said on Wednesday that they had not received the notice.
Pearson, 38, recently entered a written plea of no contest to charges of simple battery against Zachary Rutherford. He was fined a total of $631 and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service with the Bay County Work
If he fails to pay the fine by Dec. 9, Pearson will face 15 days in jail.
Pearson works as a paraprofessional - or teacher aide. The program serves children of middle-school age who have emotional disabilities and severe behavioral disorders.
``These kids are not your everyday kids,'' Pearson said on Wednesday. ``If they were, they'd be in a regular middle school. They are very tough to deal with.''
Courthouse records show that Pearson was charged with battery, a first-degree misdemeanor, after he allegedly struck Zachary Rutherford, a student in the ACTIVE program.
Zachary Rutherford attends the program for help with ``anger control, slow learning and mental disabilities,'' his father said.
According to depositions in the court record, the incident occurred about four months ago, while Pearson was driving four students in his personal van during a school field trip. While
sitting in the front seat of the van, Pearson struck the juvenile, who was riding in the rear of the van.
The blows apparently caused a ``split lip'' and a swollen forehead. The boy's middle finger on his left hand also was broken.
``We had to get a lawyer in Destin,'' Donna Rutherford said. ``None of the lawyers here would accept it for political reasons. They didn't want to fight the School Board.''
The School Board has six months to answer the notice, Rutherford said.
However, Director Marion C. ``Bud'' Riviere said Pearson may not have caused all of the boy's injuries. Riviere's report to Superintendent Stefanie Gall said ``there was an altercation
involving the student prior to the event in question.''
Riviere's report said Rutherford was creating an unsafe situation through inappropriate behavior; in an attempt to control the
misbehavior, Pearson ``admittedly and accidentally made contact with the student'' while the vehicle was still under way.
``There is no question in my mind that there was no criminal intent,'' Riviere said on Wednesday. ``Mike is an exemplary employee and remains so. He's a good worker and a good role
model for the students.''
Depositions from students who witnessed the incident confirmed that Zachary Rutherford had fought with another student during the field trip.
Then, after the van was in motion, Rutherford apparently opened the van's sliding side door and tried to throw another student's soda can out the door. Pearson had warned the boys against such behavior because he could be ticketed for littering.
Pearson told investigators that his hand struck Rutherford's hand when he reached back to intercept the can.
Pearson said on Wednesday that he would not make further comments on the incident because of the pending civil lawsuit.
``What I might say or might not say might hurt me,'' Pearson said.``In my opinion, the people are looking to make money. Nothing I
do will satisfy them.''
Pearson originally was hired as a ``maid'' or custodian. His background is in maintenance, television repair, and glass and
metal cleaning on high-rise buildings.
Pearson is still actively employed, Riviere said. Pearson's personnel record reflects good annual reviews, but also notes his need for training to work with ``special needs'' students.
Riviere recommended to Gall that no disciplinary action be taken against Pearson. Riviere said that his investigation of the
incident led him to believe ``the event didn't take place exactly the way the student alleges.''