January 26, 2019 10:01:44 PM
Isabelle Altman - [email protected]
A former Columbus Municipal School District student is suing in federal court the district and the ex-teacher convicted of exploiting him.
Michael Jackson, 35, was sentenced to seven years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections last May, four years after a then 17-year-old male Columbus High School student accused Jackson of soliciting him for sex in 2013. At the time of his arrest in early 2014, Jackson was a choir teacher at CHS.
In the victim's suit, which was filed Friday, the victim claims Jackson and the school district violated his 14th Amendment rights -- Jackson by soliciting the student, and the school district by failing to protect students and later criticizing the student and his mother for reporting Jackson to police. The victim is asking for damages to be determined by a jury.
The student is identified only as "K.B." in the lawsuit. Attorney Lilli Evans Bass, of Jackson-based Brown Bass and Jeter law firm, is representing him. Bass did not respond to a message from The Dispatch by press time.
According to the complaint, school officials and administrators had knowledge that Jackson was harassing the student and did nothing to prevent it. It also claims the district failed to appropriately train teachers and staff how to respond to and report inappropriate sexual conduct between teachers and students.
"Despite knowledge of Jackson's dangerous and exploitative propensities as a sexual predator, child molester, and unfit agent, the school district failed to warn K.B., of said propensities," the complaint says. "...As a ... cause of this failure to warn, K.B. has suffered and continues to suffer severe emotional distress, mental pain and suffering, physical pain and suffering, and adverse consequences, including public scorn and ridicule."
District Superintendent Cherie Labat, who was not working for the district at the time of Jackson's arrest, told The Dispatch she is aware of the lawsuit and has contacted the district's attorney, but said she has no comment until she has more information on the suit.
The Dispatch was unable to reach Jackson's defense attorney in his criminal trial, Chris Kitchens of Ripley, by press time.
Nature of allegations
During the trial, the student said he and Jackson communicated through text and social media messages in November and December of 2013. Through those messages, they agreed to meet in person where Jackson would give him more than $200 in exchange for performing a sexual act. However, they never had that meeting, as the victim said he went to his mother -- then a CMSD teacher -- and reported the harassment to her. He testified that he became the subject of gossip and ridicule at school because he reported Jackson, a claim which the complaint also alleges.
While the victim's mother is not named in the lawsuit as a plaintiff, she also accused the school district of harassment during the trial. During Jackson's sentencing hearing, she testified that after Jackson's arrest she was called into a meeting with school administrators where former deputy superintendent Craig Shannon told her she "had no business going to the police" because this was a matter for the district to handle internally.
After the trial, Shannon declined to comment on the testimony when reached by The Dispatch.
Dispatch reporter Mary Pollitz contributed to this report.