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Lawuit tossed over teens hanging at Alpine
Judge says there was no evidence of civil rights violations
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A reading of "Sadie"

By: Kristen Morales

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A judge has thrown out a lawsuit against a Gainesville special-needs school where a 13-year-old boy hanged himself in a "time out" room.

Don and Tina King, the parents of Jonathan King, sued Alpine Psychoeducational Program and its supervisory agency, Pioneer Regional Educational Service Agency, alleging their son’s constitutional rights were violated at the Athens Street facility where he hanged himself in November 2004.

Jonathan committed suicide in a seclusion room for unruly students using a rope that was given to him to by a school official earlier in the day to keep his pants up.

The Kings alleged in their lawsuit that Alpine and Pioneer RESA had a "constitutionally infirm" set of policies and procedures that presented a risk of violating Jonathan’s rights.

Hall County Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller, in an order granting summary judgment to the defendants, found that the Kings did not have a case under the specific federal civil rights law they used as the basis of their suit.

The judge wrote that the Kings could not show that Alpine or Pioneer RESA exercised any policy, procedure or custom that violated Jonathan’s rights. Fuller, citing previous court rulings, also found there was no so-called "special relationship" between Jonathan and the school that could be compared with a prison inmate whose rights are violated.

Fuller wrote in his opinion that while the decision by a school employee to allow Jonathan to keep the makeshift belt "may have amounted to negligence, plaintiffs have not pointed to any policy, procedure or custom of defendant Pioneer that violated a right or privilege afforded to Jonathan (under the federal law)."

The Kings did not sue on the grounds of negligence. Under state sovereign immunity laws, Pioneer RESA would have been protected from such a claim.

Fuller earlier dismissed the Georgia Department of Education as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Phil Hartley, the attorney who successfully represented Pioneer RESA, said Wednesday that "RESA and Alpine were very pleased that the judge agreed there had been no violation of constitutional rights, and were particularly pleased with the finding that there was no evidence that the student posed a suicide risk presented in the record."

"We’re glad to have this stage of the matter behind us," Hartley said. "Obviously this is a tragic situation, and RESA has continued to express its sympathy to the family."

Wyc Orr, the attorney representing the Kings, called Fuller’s decision "a huge blow and threat to the well-being and safety of children across the country."

"It leaves the most vulnerable among us completely unprotected," Orr said. "This decision allows a school system in a case of predictable suicide to completely deny any responsibility or accountability and gives a judicial pass for that wrongdoing."

Orr said he would appeal the ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals.