Monday, April 22, 2024

3 more victims file suit against NHC school board over Kelly abuse

The Isaac Bear campus at University of North Carolina Wilmington was established in 2007, and has been in need of improvements for years. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)
Three more young men have come forward with a new suit against Michael Kelly for alleged sexual abuse while they were students at Isaac Bear Early College High School. (Port City Daily/file photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The New Hanover County Board of Education is once again being sued for alleged wrongdoing in regards to former teacher Michael Kelly’s abuse of students.

READ MORE: NHCS will settle in Kelly sexual abuse case

ALSO: Judge awards $140M damages to victims in Michael Kelly case

The suit, filed by Rhine Law Firm, involves three new John Does, separate from the 14 plaintiffs that sued the school board in 2019 following Kelly’s conviction on 59 sex crimes.

In June, that case was settled out of court, with New Hanover County Schools paying $5.75 million. A separate case ended with the victims being awarded $140 million in November for Kelly’s abuse of them while they were NHCS students.

“As we told the Board’s attorneys, there are additional victims of Mike Kelly who are still out there and within their statute of limitations,” Lea/Schultz attorney Mary Charles Amerson said in the release.

Kelly was employed as a chemistry teacher at Laney High School and Isaac Bear Early College. From 2003 to his arrest in 2018, he allegedly committed a number of predatory acts with multiple students. Accusations include sexually explicit conversations with students, exposing them to pornography, possessing and sharing child pornography, performing sex acts on children and directing them to perform sex acts on him. 

Referring to themselves as John Does 15 through 17, the three young men, who just came forward, were all former Isaac Bear Early College students. While the years they were students is unclear, the release states it was “at some point after a principal conducted interviews with several parents and many other former students about Kelly’s inappropriate conduct in 2010.”

Amerson claims if the principal had fired and reported Kelly to law enforcement, he would never have met, and subsequently abused, the three new John Does.

“The heinous acts of this man knew no bounds and the continued failures of this district allow this to occur,” Rhine attorney Martin Ramey said in the release.

Rhine and Lee/Schultz law firms are collaborating on the suit.

It was revealed during Kelly’s 2019 criminal trial that the school district investigated Kelly for sexual misconduct in 2006 but did not alert law enforcement. That triggered the civil lawsuit against the school board, former superintendents Rick Holliday and Tim Markley and other unnamed employees. 

The suit alleged the board was culpable in failing to prevent Kelly’s actions for more than a decade. 

The civil case did not go to trial. After years of trying to dismiss it, New Hanover County Schools agreed to settle earlier this year, though did not apologize nor admit wrongdoing.

The district also agreed to expand training for students, staff, and administrators on sexual abuse and recognizing and reporting such abuse. There will also be a public report of its efforts to improve the school’s policies and practices regarding Title IX compliance and sexual abuse prevention.

In the press release, Amerson states nothing in the previous settlement prevents John Does 15, 16 and 17 from suing the school board for what happened to them.

The attorney said she plans to use the first lawsuit’s deposition testimony and over 80,000 pages of documents spanning 25 years to support this case.

“We expect to fight just as hard in this litigation as we did in the first and will continute to fight until this school district eradicates the problem of educator-student sexual abuse.” Amerson said in the release. “This does not belong in a classroom.”

No trial date has been set at this time.

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