Judge tosses suit over hazing claims on prep football team

March 29, 2022 GMT

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Former high school football players and their parents can’t sue an ex-coach and others over claims that young team members were beaten in a hazing ritual, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Terry Moorer dismissed a lawsuit seeking $12 million from former Davidson High School coach Fred Riley, three of his assistant coaches and school officials, WALA-TV reported Monday. Riley was ousted over the allegations in 2018.

One incident resulted in a broken arm to then-freshman quarterback Rodney Kim, who was shown on cellphone video being beaten by several players after he was promoted to the varsity team. Twenty players were involved, Mobile police said at the time, and several were arrested.

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But the coaches and school leaders can’t be sued because of qualified immunity that shields government employees unless the law clearly shows a violation of constitutional rights, the judge ruled. Even if the violence did happen, Moorer ruled, there wasn’t any evidence that the Riley or the others had a plan to hurt players.

Charles Bonner, an attorney for one-time players and their parents, said he plans an appeal. “The court, essentially, allowed the children to be unprotected,” said Bonner.

A spokeswoman for the Mobile County Public School System, Rena Phillips, said it is “unfortunate that this incident occurred. But we’re pleased that the judge found it was not the fault of these employees.”

Evidence showed that the coach once told his players to “knock it off” when he saw them in spring 2017 assaulting another team member, resulting in a broken collarbone. Riley also reprimanded players who had assaulted two other players, the judge noted.

The suit argued that Riley allowed a “custom of hazing” that amounted to excessive corporal punishment, but the judge said the coaches’ actions didn’t violate a legal standard.