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New plaintiffs, new allegations in sexual abuse and neglect lawsuit against NHCS

From the third amended complaint in the civil suit against NHCS.
Ben Schachtman
From the third amended complaint in the civil suit against NHCS.

Editor's Note: This story discusses sexual abuse of children and may be disturbing to readers and listeners.

On Tuesday, attorneys filed an amended complaint against the New Hanover County Schools district, including new plaintiffs and new allegations against former teacher Micheal Earl Kelly and former administrators. The lawsuit, filed in the wake of Kelly's sentencing, deals both with criminal sexual misconduct and abuse for which Kelly has been convicted, and also allegations. The suit seeks to hold NHCS responsible for Kelly's actions as well as negligence by top administrators in supervising Kelly and intervening when they were allegedly notified of his behavior.

Three new plaintiffs, all identified as John Does, joined the civil suit against the school district, all alleging sexual misconduct or abuse by Kelly at either Laney High School or Isaac Bear Early College, where Kelly taught for decades.

According to plaintiff’s attorney Martin Ramey, these allegations are the most disturbing yet released to the public, including that Kelly groomed, drugged, and then raped one of his students -- identified as John Doe 13.

“And on one occasion, he placed something in the drink. And basically, the boy was unable to move and resist Kelly and Kelly then proceeded to have intercourse with him. And that happened on multiple occasions. [John Doe] 13 is probably the most horrific incident that we have, and Kelly's actions that we learned today. “

The complaint also presents more detailed allegations about so-called investigations in 2006 and 2010, conducted by the district into Kelly’s behavior -- but not involving local law enforcement or removing Kelly from his teaching post, although one coincided with Kelly being transferred.

According to Ramey, "the 2010 investigation at Isaac Baer produced 23 pages of documents, including memos from administrators, within the school, faculty within the school, and interviews with students and other parents." Ramey said names in the documents were redacted but that they appear to confirm the account of a mother who went to faculty and administrators with concerns about Kelly, leading to the 2010 in-house investigation.

The amended complaint also places increased focus on the psychological suffering of those making the allegations, including crimes Kelly has already pleaded guilty to and is currently serving prison time for.

“It's so easy to read the papers and you don't, you don't get a true sense for what sexual abuse does to a child. And then when you see what they're dealing with, you see the attempted suicides. You see, you know, substance abuse, you see, diagnoses of PTSD, schizophrenia, those types of it becomes very real.”

The new filing pulls from over 50,000 pages of documents and over a dozen depositions, work that is still ongoing. By November, attorneys expect to have conducted 60 interviews.

In a statement, the district wrote:

New Hanover County Schools understood since this lawsuit was filed that there may be additional students who come forward with claims, being a class action lawsuit. We are continuing to exchange and gather information with the previous plaintiffs and will now do so with the newest plaintiffs.

The district expects to file a response on behalf of the school board and former Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley in the coming month. Former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday is being represented separately; his legal counsel declined to comment.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.