NJ district pays $435K to black student involved in ‘bat attack’ of white classmate
MILLBURN — The Board of Education has agreed to pay $435,000 to a black former high school student whose family claimed school officials failed to take adequate action when the student suffered racially-motivated bullying and physical assault.
The student, his brother and their father were all arrested in 2009 after his brother took out a baseball bat from his father's car and struck another student, hospitalizing him.
The bat attack made headlines at the time and was reported as a confrontation orchestrated by the black family.
But in the lawsuit filed by Darryl George and Brenda Barnes-George, the parents say their sons were defending themselves in that incident and that they had been the "subject of racial slurs, terroristic threats and physical brutality by other Millburn High School students."
The lawsuit cited the 2000 Census, which indicates that at that time, nearly 90 percent of Millburn's population was listed as white while black or African-Americans make up just over 1 percent of the community. The family lived in the township's Short Hills section, one of the wealthiest communities in the country.
In the now-settled lawsuit, the George family alleged that their younger son Omari — who along with his brother founded the school's first African American club — was consistently bullied by upperclassmen.
On March 14, 2008, the teen "was assaulted by another student while in the Millburn High School boy's locker room" and ended up with a fractured nose, the suit alleges. Then, on Jan. 8, 2009, Omari "was targeted by a group of senior students who pushed him and made disparaging remarks," telling him "you're dead."
The student's parents contacted school authorities, but they claim Principal William Miron and Vice Principal Michelle Pitts failed to take appropriate action beyond conducting a mediation session on Jan. 9 that didn't result in any disciplinary measures against the alleged bullies.
According to the complaint, the bat confrontation between Omari, his brother Lamar and another student occurred on Jan. 9 following the mediation session.
Lamar was confronted by a high school senior and the two had a verbal dispute, the family said. Lamar and his brother then ran to their father's car "to avoid a physical dispute." When they arrived at the car, Lamar allegedly took out a baseball bat "to protect himself," the complaint says.
As he walked back to the school, the lawsuit states, "Lamar defended himself resulting in an impact between the baseball bat and [student's] leg." A fight broke out and the two brothers and their father were all arrested.
The charges against all three were eventually dismissed, the suit states. No disciplinary action was taken against the third student, court documents say.
Omari was expelled but the state commissioner of Education reversed the decision in November 2010.
A few days after the incident, the complaint alleges that Superintendent Richard Brodow told members of the press "that there was an assault on an innocent boy" who had intervened to help another student was the intended targets of the alleged attack.
The George family argued that Brodow did not adequately investigate the incident.
The complaint also stated that the school official took the position that the fight was the result of "a conspiracy by members of the George family to assault" the senior and other students.
The complaint against the school district alleges that as a result of the incidents and officials' failure to take "appropriate" action, Omari George "suffered great harm, including emotional distress, damage to reputation and embarrassment."
The case never went to court, and Omari was the sole person to sign the $435,000 settlement agreement, according to court documents first published by open-government activist John Paff's website.
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Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.