Lawsuit dismissed against Harrison High employees in Cobb bullying case

A Cobb County Superior Court judge granted a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit against two Harrison High School employees brought by parents angered over the school's response to an alleged bullying incident involving their son.
A Cobb County Superior Court judge granted a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit against two Harrison High School employees brought by parents angered over the school's response to an alleged bullying incident involving their son.

Family alleged freshman son was punished for fighting back against older bully

A Cobb County Superior Court judge granted a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit against two Harrison High School employees brought by parents outraged over the 2018 criminal prosecution of their son for fighting back against alleged bullying.

ExploreCobb family in controversial Harrison High bullying case files lawsuit

While the parents of Jorge Santa-Hernandez said their son was defending himself, the high school called it a criminal assault. A freshman at the time, Jorge received a school suspension and faced criminal charges after he attacked a senior he said bullied and threatened him on the last day of school. The Cobb County district attorney later dropped the charges against the teen.

ExploreWas Cobb freshman defending himself or committing assault?

The case received a lot of attention as other parents alleged that Cobb County Schools minimized bullying and punished victims.

Filed 11 months ago, the civil lawsuit targeted then Harrison High School assistant principal Arthur O’Neill and school district police officer Ivant Fields. The suit alleged false imprisonment for the time in which the pair questioned Jorge without allowing the teen to call his parents, along with intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution.

In the ruling Thursday, Cobb Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark wrote, “All of the plaintiff’s claims against Defendant O’Neill and Defendant Fields in their official capacity are barred by sovereign immunity such that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claims.”

Georgia law states public employees acting in their official capacity are protected from liability unless they were negligent or acted with malice.

“Here the decision to carry out an investigation into the underlying incident, who to question during that investigation, whether to bring criminal charges against Jorge Santa, and how to punish the other students involved — all require the exercise of discretion,” wrote Judge Clark. “An official is immune from liability for discretionary acts within the scope of his official authority if they are done without actual malice.”

Today, a Cobb County School District spokeswoman said, “When this lawsuit began, we said we looked forward to the facts of this case being adjudicated in court, not through social media. This is a final judgment which was found in the district’s favor and our comments from one year ago are as true now as they were then.”

Mitch Skandalakis, the family’s attorney, said today he was preparing an appeal, saying, “There is a case that states that if you did not follow a school policy and procedure you can be personally liable. We contend that in addition to not following school policy with regard to investigation of bullying, assistant principal Arthur O’Neill did not follow state law. There was no investigation until the district attorney’s office got involved months later. "

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