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Ashland schools accused of negligence in student fight

A fight in April 2017 that involved at least one former Ashland High School football player and allegedly left students with concussions and a broken jaw is at the center of two legal complaints filed against the Ashland School District in recent weeks.

The complaints accuse the district of negligence, malicious prosecution and liability in its handling of the fight, which involved multiple Ashland High School students during school hours.

Sam Dixon filed a tort claim in April on behalf of her son that alleged high school staff failed to protect him after he’d been threatened by other students. The students were upset about her son’s use of the “n” word at an off-campus party three days earlier, according to the complaint.

Dixon claims that on April 18, 2017, her son, identified as M.C. in the lawsuit, was attacked in the AHS courtyard during school hours by students, including members of the football team, who had threatened him earlier that day. School administrators were aware of those threats and talked to both M.C. and the other students, but did not “act on the information they were given by the person who initiated the attack on M.C.,” the lawsuit claims.

M.C. was treated for a concussion and other injuries, according to the claim. The claim alleges the district “encouraged police to file charges” against M.C. (which were later dropped after reviewing video footage) and that it expelled M.C. for a year (later shortened) on grounds and in a manner inconsistent with the district’s expulsion policy.

An amended version of the complaint filed June 29 dropped a third claim alleging a violation of free speech rights. The damages sought total around $66,000.

Dixon’s lawyer declined to comment.

The district referred comment to its lawyer, Peter Mersereau, who said the district is “certainly denying the allegations and raising certain defenses,” but declined to comment further on the lawsuit.

Dixon’s account of what happened April 18, 2017, seems to coincide with events described in a second claim filed June 29 by a “Good Samaritan” student. Ashland School District was named as one of two defendants in this claim.

The plaintiff, Che Tratensek-Contor, says he was forced to intervene in the fight on behalf of M.C. due to a lack of supervision by school employees. The complaint alleges that Anthony Swanson, who had played football and basketball for Ashland and who is the second defendant in the claim, watched the assault against M.C.; when Tratensek-Contor tried to intervene, Swanson punched him, sending Tratensek-Contor to the ground, breaking his jaw and knocking him unconscious. His jaw was surgically wired shut for months and he sustained a concussion, the claim says.

Swanson pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree assault charge, a Class A misdemeanor. He served eight days in detention and was ordered to pay $11,874 in restitution, according to Joe Ferguson, deputy director of Jackson County Community Justice.

Both Mersereau and the school district were unaware of the new claim by Tratensek-Contor until contacted by the Mail Tribune July 2. They declined to comment.

Swanson referred requests for comment to a lawyer, Christopher Missiaen, who said he was acting as a media liaison for the family. Missiaen described Swanson as “a good kid” who “paid his debt.”

“If you watch the actual fight, this is nothing out of the ordinary,” said Missiaen, who added he had seen comparable fights happen when he attended an all-boys school as a youth.

Tratensek-Contor’s lawyer, Faith Marie Morse, said her client had “been through quite the ordeal,” with his jaw wired shut for several months and staying home from school for part of his senior year.

She said she had tried to work with the school district prior to filing the lawsuit.

“So they shouldn’t have been shocked,” she said.

The second lawsuit seeks $318,044, according to the complaint document.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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