The mother of an alleged victim involved in the McIntosh County Academy football hazing scandal filed suit Monday against the school board and former head football coach Robby Robinson in U.S. District Court in Brunswick.
She’s seeking $2 million for damages, pre- and post-judgment interest on those damages, legal costs, punitive damages and any other relief deemed proper.
The complaint specifically accuses Robinson of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, while accusing the McIntosh County School District of violation of the alleged victim’s due process by not acting to prevent the student’s injuries.
According to the complaint, McIntosh County School Board member Joe Maulden informed Superintendent John Barge on Oct. 6, 2015, about an allegation that Robinson punched a football player in the chest during a game two weeks earlier. Barge then passed along the tip to Daniel Lodise, the chief of campus police for the county.
“Lodise conducted an investigation as to whether a basis existed to bring criminal charges against Robinson which substantiated the incident, however charges were not brought at that time, in large part, because the victim’s mother requested that no criminal charges be brought against Robinson related to the incident,” according to the complaint.
From there, fast forward to Aug. 17, 2016, when MCA Principal Barry Lollis addressed new hazing allegations with Robinson, which resulted in an investigation by Lodise. Lodise, finding enough credibility in the allegations, filed a notification with the state Division of Family and Children’s Services, along with contacting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Lollis also brought up the matter with Barge.
For the victim in question, J.E., the complaint details a method by which older players would launch themselves into younger players at practice — in a manner that is similar to the banned action of “targeting” in college football games. In this case, the alleged victim was supposedly told by another player on Aug. 26, 2016, they would carry out a “hit” on him in the next practice because the alleged victim was not cheering loudly enough.
“Such ‘hits’ consisted of one player, usually a senior player, intentionally ramming or tackling the targeted player, usually a freshman player, with great speed and force when the targeted player was not expecting the ‘hit,’ thus blindsiding the victim,” according to the complaint.
The complaint states J.E.’s mother, Courtney Ward, advised Robinson of the threat, and the coach said he would handle it. Three days later, Lollis sent an email to all football coaching staff alerting them of hazing allegations — including one “in which a student had been physically forced into a trash can by teammates” — and “instructed Robinson to address the matter with the football team…” along with other MCA teams.
The complaint then states Robinson failed to address the hazing issue with the team, and that MCSD board members James McKinzie and Bonnie Caldwell made phone calls to Lodise in which “both McKinzie and Caldwell sought to persuade Lodise that Robinson’s conduct was not criminal, advised the matter did not warrant further investigation, and that Lodise should instead investigate Lollis for harassing Robinson.”
After three separate instances in which Robinson failed to discuss hazing with his players, the alleged victim suffered the “hit” during an Aug. 30, 2016, practice, and the complaint states J.E. was not able to call family for help and had to finish practice before receiving medical treatment.
“The ‘hit’ on J.E. resulted in several severe injuries, including a concussive brain injury and multiple bruised ribs,” according to the complaint. “Ward was required to miss several weeks of school in order to recover from these injuries.
“At the present J.E. still suffers from headaches, and Ward has noted behavioral and emotional changes to J.E. since the incident, including anger management issues, that were not present before the incident.”
The complaint states the mother then contacted Caldwell, who told her to contact Lodise, who initiated his third investigation into Robinson.
At the September 2016 school board meeting, the board voted to transfer Lollis to the county’s alternative high school. The board later moved him back to MCA, before ultimately deciding not to renew his contract for the 2017-18 year.
The complaint contains an allegation that before the school board voted to renew Lodise’s contract before the 2017-18 academic year, the board’s attorney told Lodise the board wanted him gone and to submit a letter of resignation. Lodise sent the letter on Aug. 7, 2017, which contained a request to postpone the final date of employment, but the board voted to terminate his job effective four days later.
A McIntosh County grand jury indicted Robinson in March 2017 on charges of felony second-degree cruelty to children and misdemeanor counts of hazing and reckless conduct, which led to Robinson resigning as athletics director and head football coach at MCA.
Lollis and Lodise filed separate suits against the MCSD board in August 2017 for wrongful termination.