The Gwinnett County NAACP is calling for an investigation into the disciplinary practices of former Buford City Schools Superintendent Geye Hamby. AJC file photo
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Buford schools chief accused of volatile behavior

A former schools superintendent accused of making a racist rant led his Gwinnett County district by intimidation with often irrational and volatile behavior that was well-known throughout the central office, according to a new legal filing.

Geye Hamby (whose first name is pronounced GUY) routinely used profane language and sometimes used racial slurs when referring to African-American employees, according to the filing in a race discrimination lawsuit. The allegations came to light in pretrial deposition testimony by Banks Bitterman, who resigned as principal of Buford High School in June 2017.

“He’d lose his temper in a heartbeat and yell, ‘I’m going to kill that (expletive),’” Bitterman said of Hamby. “I’m going to kill this. I’m going to kill, kill, kill. I’m going to (expletive) that person, (expletive) this person.”

Hamby, who was paid $308,000 a year, resigned as Buford’s superintendent last summer after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on allegations that said he used vile and racist language. The discrimination suit contained two recorded conversations in which a person complained about African-American temp workers at a construction site.

Former Buford schools superintendent Geye Hamby. (Handout)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The person, who the lawsuit identified as Hamby said, “(Expletive) that (n-word). I’ll kill these (expletive) – shoot that (expletive) if they’d let me. Alright. Well, check out what’s going on with all these (n-word) out here.”

In a subsequent interview, Phillip Beard, Buford’s longtime top elected official, said Hamby was “for sure” the person in the recording and the one making the racist comments. Beard also acknowledged his voice could be heard on the recordings. But he said had no memory of Hamby’s racist remarks, which Beard said could not be condoned “in any form or fashion.” Beard is not heard making racist remarks in the recordings.

The revelations roiled the city near Lake Lanier and led to protesters packing school board meetings. Hamby was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 22, the day after the AJC first published the story. He resigned two days later.

An overflow crowd reacts from the lobby during the Buford Board of Education meeting at the Central Office board room on Aug. 27. It was the first meeting since Superintendent Geye Hamby resigned amid allegations he used racial slurs to refer to black temporary construction workers and threatened violence against them. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The ongoing lawsuit was filed by Mary Ingram, who worked at the Buford school system for almost 20 years, primarily as a paraprofessional. She contends she was fired from the school district last year because she’d asked that the color gold — the color of Buford’s African-American school before the system was integrated — be included with Buford’s white and green colors at a new school facility.

In the recent court filings, Ingram’s attorneys asked a federal judge to allow them to amend the lawsuit to include the new allegations made by Bitterman. In a recent ruling, a U.S. magistrate declined the school district’s motion to dismiss the suit.

Bitterman’s deposition is not finished and he has not yet been subject to cross-examination, Brent Bean, a lawyer for Hamby and the school district, said in a statement.

“The District feels confident that the evidence will show that Ms. Ingram’s separation was based on her performance as determined by her local school principal and as set forth in the documentation,” he said.

Ed Buckley, one of Ingram’s lawyers, said the new filings are important.

“In discrimination cases, evidence of expressions of racial bias and evidence of other instances of race discrimination are relevant and admissible,” he said. “That Mr. Hamby harbored a racial bias — comments about other blacks and use of the n-word — we think that is highly probative.”

Bitterman, who served as an educator and coach for almost 20 years, declined to comment Wednesday when asked about his sworn testimony. On Dec. 5, he became the first of what is expected to be several current and former Buford school officials to sit for deposition testimony for the litigation. Bitterman now owns a luxury houseboat rental company on Lake Lanier.

Bitterman testified that Hamby became agitated when Ingram began showing up at city commission and school board meetings presenting petitions that asked for gold to be a part of the school system’s colors.

Mary Ingram (right) and her daughter Christy Joiner attend a Buford Board of Education meeting. It was the first meeting since Superintendent Geye Hamby resigned amid allegations, brought out by Ingram’s lawsuit, that he used racial slurs to refer to black temporary construction workers and threatened violence against them. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“I don’t know what in the hell her problem is,” Hamby said of Ingram, according to Bitterman. At one point, Hamby said of Ingram, “(Expletive) her,” Bitterman testified.

Hamby later directed Kaleen Pulley, the principal of Buford Academy, to begin finding reasons to file complaints against Ingram, Bitterman said.

“Just keep writing her up,” Hamby said, Bitterman testified. “Write her up. Write her up.”

In the ensuing months, school officials filed several complaints against Ingram. She was terminated from her position in June 2017.

As for Hamby’s erratic and profane behavior, “Heck, anybody in that central office can tell you,” Bitterman said. “…He truly led by fear and intimidation.”

Hamby used racial slurs when expressing frustration over a temporary labor detail that was laying down a new floor at the basketball arena, Bitterman said. Hamby singled out one African-American woman and called her “a black crack (whore) or something like that,” Bitterman recalled.

Hamby also referred to a high school assistant principal, who was African-American, as a “black sow,” Bitterman said.

School board chairman Phillip Beard listens while residents speak out during the Buford Board of Education meeting on Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, in Buford. It was the first meeting since Superintendent Geye Hamby resigned amid allegations he used racial slurs to refer to black temporary construction workers and threatened violence against them. CURTIS COMPTON/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As of now, Ingram’s lawsuit is headed for trial.

In October, lawyers representing the school system, Hamby and Pulley filed a motion that sought a court order dismissing Ingram’s lawsuit altogether.

But U.S. Magistrate Walter Johnson recommended that the suit be allowed to move forward.

In a 42-page decision issued last month, Johnson said it’s possible that Hamby’s alleged discontent with Ingram had solely to do with the fact that she was speaking up at public meetings, not because of racial reasons.

“But given Dr. Hamby’s expressed disdain for black people, it is plausible that his animus for (Ingram) extended beyond the mere fact she was outspoken,” the judge said. “Put differently, it is reasonable to assume that he was not only angry about her speaking but that he was also angry about her being a black person speaking on racial issues.”

Johnson also kept alive Ingram’s retaliation, free speech and right of association claims.

Johnson’s recommendation will ultimately be decided upon by U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross, who will preside over the trial if there is one.

The Story So Far

June 14, 2017 — Paraprofessional Mary Ingram is fired from the Buford city schools system.

June 27, 2018 — Ingram files suit against the Buford school system, former superintendent Geye Hamby and principal Kaleen Pulley, alleging race discrimination and retaliation and violations of her rights to free speech and association.

Aug. 21, 2018 — The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports allegations that Hamby made racist, vile remarks about black temp workers. The remarks were recorded, apparently without Hamby’s knowledge.

Aug. 22, 2018 — The Buford school board says Hamby is placed on administrative leave.

Aug. 24, 2018 — Hamby resigns as school superintendent. “My sincere apologies for any actions that may have created adversity for this community and the Buford School District,” he wrote in a resignation letter.

Oct 1, 2018 — Lawyers representing the school system file motion that asks a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

Dec. 17, 2018 — U.S. Magistrate Walter Johnson recommends that the lawsuit be allowed to proceed toward trial.

Dec. 24, 2018 — Lawyers for Ingram ask that the initial lawsuit be amended to include new allegations against Hamby.

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