UPLAND, Ind. (April 16, 2014)– More than three years after two students were injured in a shooting at Martinsville West Middle School, the legal battle continues.
Michael Phelps is already serving a 30-year sentence following his conviction in the March 2011 shooting. But now, the victims in the shooting are going after the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville with a lawsuit. The families of Chance Jackson and Brandon Kent say school officials didn’t do enough to keep the two boys safe.
Attorneys for both sides gave oral arguments before three Indiana Appeals Court Judges Wednesday. The Appeals Court is hearing the case after another judge denied the school district’s motion to dismiss it.
Attorneys for Jackson and Kent argued that staff members at the school didn’t follow their own safety plan well enough to keep Michael Phelps from entering the school on the morning of the shooting. Phelps had been previously banned from school property.
“We’re not arguing against the plan,” said Ian Thompson who represents Kent’s family. “But the failure of these staffers, who specifically knew that Micahel Phelps was, for lack of a better term, public enemy number one at this point. This kid had threatened to blow up the school three weeks prior to this incident.”
Tom Blessing, who represents Chance Jackson and his mother, argued that school staff members failed to prevent Phelps from entering the building.
“So then, Phelps goes by this bike rack within I believe ten for fifteen feet, as the testimony shows, of two staff members who are standing right there and don’t see him.”
The focus of the arguments is important as it pertains to immunity under state law. School officials argue that having the safety plan in place should give the school district immunity.
Attorney Tony Overholt, representing Martinsville Schools, compared the arguments to Monday morning quarterbacking.
“Anybody can always come along and say.. you could have done more, you should have done more, you should have spent more money, you should have done this, you should have done that,” he said.
The school district also countered the victims’ arguments by turning attention back on Chance Jackson himself. The district claims Jackson could have done more to avoid Phelps on that morning. The district says Jackson had several warnings about Phelps coming to the school to confront him, and the two boys had a long history of trash talk between them.
“Chance Jackson was told three times that morning, Michael Phelps is going to come and kick your a**,” Overholt said.
Judges Paul Mathias, Margret Robb and Cale Blackford will decide what happens next. While the Indiana Appeals Court can often come back with a decision in four to six weeks, Judge Mathias said it could take two months with this case. He noted the potential implications for school districts across the state.