Saying Davidson High School officials have allowed a “fight club called hazing to exist for years” on the football team, the parents of Rodney Kim Jr. and their attorneys officially announced a $12 million claim in front of the Mobile County School Board offices Monday afternoon.
Kim Jr., a 14-year-old freshman football player, suffered a broken arm in a locker room assault on April 27. A video of the incident showing multiple students hitting and jumping on Kim went viral last week.
Four students have been suspended since last week and, according to the Mobile Police Department on Monday afternoon, they will be charged with third-degree assault. Public Affairs Officer Charlette Solis told AL.com that three of the four students have been taken into custody. This MPD investigation is ongoing, she said.
The students were charged as juveniles, according to authorities.
Rodney Kim Sr. and Mary Rayford-Kim, along with attorneys Charles Bonner and Jesse Ryder, served an MCPSS official with the claim Monday afternoon. In addition to monetary compensation, the family also is seeking for the Davidson football team to forfeit the 2018 season.
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“We just filed a $12 million claim against the Mobile County Board of Education because the adults who run the school system here allowed a culture of a fight club called hazing to exist for years, and it must stop now and it will stop now,” Bonner said in addressing the media.
The claim also names Mobile County Superintendent Martha Peek, Davidson Principal Lewis Copeland and football coach Fred Riley. The family alleges Davidson officials knew about and allowed a type of hazing ritual to happen consistently.
Mary Rayford-Kim said at least 10 parents and six school employees have notified them of similar incidents, though none have publicly come forward.
No formal lawsuit against the Mobile County Public Schools has been filed, according to online state and federal court databases.
Peek said in a news conference last week that she was not aware of any past assaults like the one on Kim Jr. Riley, who has been coach at the school for the past 14 seasons, has not commented publicly, citing the ongoing investigation.
“These parents are insisting that no more hazing, no more fight club, no more turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to this kind of culture of violence that has existed for years,” Bonner said. “One of the kids who attacked our client, this 14-year-old honor student, said this has been going on for years, that this is the culture.
“Football players respect their coaches much like soldiers respect their sergeants and their leaders. If a coach had told these kids in no uncertain terms that this kind of violent conduct was not to be tolerated, was definitely not to be allowed, these students would have obeyed that coach the same way they get out there and run into other kids and play football.”
Looking for answers
A press release issued by Bonner and Ryder states that “there have been at least six or seven additional attacks on younger, weaker players, called ‘fruit-fruit’ by older players during their vicious assaults.”
P.J. Wright, who served as a Riley assistant for 13 years before leaving for another job in the spring of 2017, told AL.com last week that he never witnessed that type of activity while he was involved in the program.
“In my time there, there was never any ritualistic fighting or hazing or putting someone down in the locker room like that,” said Wright, now head coach at Ardmore. “It’s just not something that was ever a pattern there.”
Former Alabama and Davidson star lineman Alphonse Taylor echoed Wright’s sentiments on a local radio show Monday afternoon.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of negative stuff about it, that hazing has been a tradition there,” Taylor said. “I’m going to call total BS on all of that. That’s not the Davidson coaches. That is not what I was brought up in. That is so far from the truth.”
Taylor told WNSP 105.5-FM he never witnessed any type of hazing incident in his time at the school.
“Will teenage boys be teenage boys and roughhouse with each other? Of course,” he said. “But do we ritually take people and beat them, introduce them to a high school football team? No way. That’s never been the case. I’ve been around the varsity team since I was a freshman. For people to just say that out of the blue is beyond me. I will put my name on the line saying nothing like that ever went on.”
Martha Peek reacts
Bonner called the attack on Kim Jr., who was not at the press conference, “barbaric” and “savage.” He said the group was heading to the police department next to sign warrants against any players who had been identified in the assault and not yet charged. Peek said the suspensions last week may be just the first measure of discipline as far as the school is concerned.
She said the school system is conducting a “complete” investigation into the matter. Rena Havner-Philips, director of communication for MCPSS, said late Monday afternoon the investigation is continuing and referred all other questions to the system’s attorneys.
Bonner said the family puts the real blame on the adults surrounding the program, not the players who conducted the actual beating.
“The reason why they viciously beat this young, 14-year-old boy, viciously kicked, hit and struck and jumped up on like a TV wrestling personality onto his arm and broke it, the reason they engaged in this barbaric savage conduct is because no adult was there, no adults told them not to do it,” Bonner said. “Instead, the adults were aware they were doing it, the adults were aware that just the day before the kids had beat another young kid with whips, that just a week before they had been hitting this same kid in the back of the head with sunscreen on their hands.
“What did the coaches do? Well they made the offenders run some laps and roll around on the grass. … This is violent. We don’t tolerate violence in our schools. Kids would be safer going to jail then to going to public school. Schools have a duty to keep our kids safe.”
Rodney Kim Sr. said the family feels too many people are “dragging their feet” in reaction to the incident with his son.
“This has gone on too long,” he said. “So that is why we are doing what we think, what I think, is best for my family. That is why we are moving forward with the lawsuit because evidently no one else is stepping up to the plate and doing what they should do.”
Rayford-Kim pledged to keep pushing for answers and actions.
“Not only for our sons but for your sons in the future,” she said. “This barbaric behavior has to stop. It’s going to stop today. I don’t understand why it has taken the Mobile Police Department so long to make these arrests. I feel like you guys are pushing this under the rug. We are not going anywhere. We are going to be here. So please chief (Lawrence) Battiste, do your job. Please. I’m begging you.”
Bonner, who at one point misidentified Kim Jr. as Jabarri, accused Davidson leaders of leaving the freshman to his own accord after the beating. Peek has said it is her understanding coaches were present in the fieldhouse and were rushing to break up the assault after they heard an increase in noise. If that happened, the 35-second video does not show it.
“Jabarri .. I mean our kid here … When our kid was injured here, Rodney Jr., they left him beaten to a pulp on the floor in the locker room,” Bonner said. “All the teachers went home to their children. He had to then crawl himself out to the curb with a bloodied body and a broken arm and wait for his father to come an hour and a half from the Mississippi border. No one cared. No adult called 911. No adult sought to tell the truth about what happen, rather they deceived and hid the facts, saying he got hurt in practice.”
The notice of claim breaks down the monetary demand as follows: $6 million as compensation for Rodney Kim Jr., $3 million as compensation for Mary Kim, $3 million as compensation for Rodney Sr.
“Twelve million is not enough to restore what they have taken from this boy,” Bonner said. “They have taken away his dream. How much is that worth? His dream was to play pro football. Now he is damaged for life.”
Kim Jr. had surgery on his broken right arm last week. Mary Rayford-Kim said he was resting at home Monday as the press conference was held.
Kim Notice of Claim by Josh Bean on Scribd