Mother of 4-year-old at center of Rapides corporal punishment case files civil suit

Defendants named include RPSB, Phoenix Magnet principal, pre-K teacher, custodian, insurance company
Civil suit filed in Rapides Parish corporal punishment case
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 2:21 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 12, 2022 at 1:03 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - The mother of a 4-year-old, who is at the center of a criminal case involving the use of corporal punishment at Phoenix Magnet Elementary School, has filed a civil lawsuit in the Rapides Parish courthouse.

Last Friday, Harli Matt, who is identified as the child’s mother, filed the lawsuit and named the Rapides Parish School Board, Phoenix Magnet’s principal at the time of the alleged incident, John Grimes, a custodian at the school, the child’s pre-K teacher, and the school board’s insurance company as defendants.

Grimes is charged in a criminal case with a count of “cruelty to juveniles.” He has entered a plea of “not guilty” and has a pre-trial conference scheduled for Oct. 13. He’s represented by George Higgins in the criminal matter.

According to the civil lawsuit, Matt’s child started pre-K at Phoenix Magnet on Sept. 1, 2021 and the alleged incident occurred on Sept. 10, the child’s fifth day at the school.

Matt claims that her child was sent to the principal’s office by his teacher for talking during nap time.

“So, (child’s) teacher had (child) removed from the classroom and remanded to the custody of the Phoenix Magnet Elementary School principal, John L. Grimes, Jr.”

Harli Matt v. Rapides Parish School Board, et al

At some point, Matt states in her lawsuit, that Grimes made a decision to administer corporal punishment, “without first trying alternative, preferred methods under RPSB policy.”

“Upon information and belief, Grimes spanked (child) with a foreign object, believed to have been a paddle.”

Harli Matt v. Rapides Parish School Board, et al

Matt believes that administration of that spanking “may have been witnessed by someone.”

“Later, Grimes again spanked (child) a second time with a foreign object, believed to be a paddle.”

Harli Matt v. Rapides Parish School Board, et al

Matt states in the lawsuit that the school’s custodian restrained her child during the second incident of corporal punishment. She also states that after the incident, Grimes completed a “Corporal Punishment Incidence Checklist.”

“Therein, he indicated he made a telephone call or sent emails to the parent or guardian of (child) prior to the use of corporal punishment. John Grimes, Jr. never sent a note, or called or spoke to Harli Matt before using corporal punishment on (child).”

Harli Matt v. Rapides Parish School Board, et al

As we learned through the criminal investigation, Matt noticed “two hand-sized whelps” on her child’s bottom that were turning “black and blue.” She went to the Alexandria Police Department. Roughly seven months later, Grimes was indicted by a Rapides Parish grand jury.

In May, the school board voted to eliminate corporal punishment.

Matt’s attorneys, Vilar & Green and the Keiser Law Firm, say Louisiana law doesn’t allow or provide for corporal punishment of a 4-year-old pre-K student. And, they say at the time the school board didn’t have a policy allowing it either.

“Petitioner would show that neither the School Board policy, nor the State statutes even contemplate the administration of corporal punishment to pre-K students {i.e., those four years of age or under].”

Harli Matt v. Rapides Parish School Board, et al

They argue that the child should have never been removed from the classroom in the first place, and that since the incident occurred, both the child and Matt have experienced “emotional suffering,” among other things.

They’re seeking damages and asking for a jury trial.

News Channel 5 also reached out to the Rapides Parish School Board for comment.

The case is assigned to Judge Monique Rauls.

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