by Ron Gregory
(Reader caution: the following contains graphic sexual descriptions that may be inappropriate, especially for minors. The descriptions come from court files and are felt necessary to describe the severity of the charges made. Filing suit does not necessarily mean the allegations are factual. In this case, the defendant has not responded to the civil suit although he did plead guilty to a similar charge in Mingo County circuit court).
PIKEVILLE, Ky – The Pike County, Kentucky, board of education, its superintendent, the Belfry High School principal and a former employee have been named in a federal lawsuit.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Region of Kentucky, alleges misconduct on the part of Jerry Swafford, plant supervisor at BHS. The suit says Swafford engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior with students. According to the complaint, filed by Michael Hissam of the Charleston law firm Bailey & Glasser, the board and the officials named were aware of Swafford’s misconduct and either condoned or attempted to hide it.
The complaint says Swafford had “parties” (quotation marks used in the filing) at his home during which “he plied children with drugs and alcohol and sexually abused them.” Although the board was made aware of this misconduct, “(they) did nothing” the suit says.
While multiple examples of this conduct are verifiable, Hissam’s suit says he is filing the suit about “just one of these children.”
The student is identified with initials in the complaint while the guardians are named. The Chronicle policy forbids the publication of such names in sexually-related cases unless the court eventually determines that the plaintiffs are lying. Therefore, we will simply refer to the student as “A” and the guardians as “John and Jane Doe.”
The narration says that on Friday, October 14, 2016, a “concerned parent” called BHS Principal Mark Gannon to report that her daughter had received an “invitation to a party at Swafford’s home the next night. She also informed Principal Gannon that she had seen photographs of Swafford in his home with underage girls wearing nothing but towels.”
Hissam says, in court documents, that instead of taking action regarding the party, Gannon criticized “the parent for impugning Swafford’s character.”
Later that same day, the parent phoned the Pike County board officer and made the same report. No action was taken by the board in response to the parent’s concern.
The suit alleges that high school officials and board staff were “preoccupied with homecoming activities” and the Swafford party went forward with no concern shown by the board or its representatives.
According to the complaint, 30 Pike County students and others attended the party. Eventually, it maintains, Swafford pled guilty to his crime and is set to spend time in prison. “But the damage to (A) – damage that the board could have and should have prevented – will last a lifetime. This suit seeks to hold the board accountable for caring more about protecting a sexual predator than safeguarding a child.”
Specifically, the suit says Swafford planned the “joint birthday party” for himself and a friend. It was Swafford’s 61st birthday. The friend was described as a 16-year-old student from another district “with whom Swafford was having a sexual relationship.”
Invitations to the party were circulated to BHS students by social media and Swafford personally invited children to attend his party while at school, using a cellular phone provided by the board. It was held at Swafford’s Chattaroy home. The host was the only adult present, the suit alleges.
As host, it says, Swafford provided the children with 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor, 16-ounce Rasberrita “tall boys,” vodka, marijuana, synthetic marijuana, and a cake that said “Happy Birthday” and included the 16-year-old honoree’s initials.
Upon her arrival, Swafford handed student A a mixed drink, after which she became intoxicated. Two witnesses watch Swafford spike student A’s drink with a prescription sleeping pill.
Hours later, the suit claims, another female child notice student A’s absence and went looking for her. When she opened Swafford’s bedroom door, she saw student A lying face down on the bed, apparently unconscious, with her pants and underwear around her ankles. “Swafford was on top of her, pants down, with his penis touching (student A’s) genitals,” the claim maintains.
The student was taken to a hospital and treated for injuries. She has received psychiatric treatment for the mental anguish and emotional trauma inflicted as a result of the alleged assault, the suit continues.
When interrogated by state police, the suit says Swafford confessed to assaulting student A and was charged with one count of sexual abuse. That charge included the fact that he was a parent, guardian or custodian of student A at the time. He was additionally charged with one count of misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
In January, Swafford appeared in circuit court and pleaded guilty to one felony count of sexual abuse of a minor. In open court, the suit says, he admitted to the allegations in this suit.
The filing maintains that, for a long period of time, the board and Adkins had been aware that “Swafford posed a substantial risk to students.”
It goes on, “for example, in 2012, a co-worker discovered Swafford masturbating in his office with a female student’s garment wrapped around his face.” Despite the co-workers report of the incident to the principal, nothing was done, the suit alleges.
At the time of that incident, a post on social media warned that Swafford was “chasing little girls all over the school” and engaging in sexual conduct with girls as young as 15, the lawsuit says. It maintains Swafford used inappropriate sexual comments and had inappropriate sexual contact on school grounds, which was observed by school administrators and recorded on video surveillance cameras.
Swafford began hosting “parties” at his home around 2015, when he was awarded custody of his teenage daughter, the suit says. Parents, who were unaware of allegations directed toward the man, felt “safe” allowing their children to attend since he was a school employee.
“Soon,” the suit maintains, “bacchanalian weekend parties fueled by drugs and alcohol were an every-weekend occurrence in Swafford’s home, and an open secret among the BHS faculty and administration.”
The suit alleges a count of violation of due process, under the 14th constitutional amendment; a violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972; a violation of Kentucky’s prohibition against sex discrimination under any education program receiving state aid; negligence per se against the superintendent and principal; negligence by the two officials; and civil battery against Swafford.
The plaintiff is asking for a trial by jury; judgment against the defendants for compensatory damages, court costs, interest, expenses and attorney’s fees; and unspecified punitive damages.