Alabama Judge Clears School Official: A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the assistant principal involved in a school bus altercation in northern Alabama. U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith, in a 19-page opinion, highlighted that the student suffered minor injuries and had initially bitten Jason Watts’ arm. Watts, the assistant principal at James Clemens High School in Madison, intervened in a fight between two students on a bus on December 14, 2022.
Eric Artrip, the student’s attorney, hasn’t ruled out the possibility of appealing the ruling. Artrip expressed disappointment, stating they believed federal law was violated when Assistant Principal Watts retaliated for minor injuries by repeatedly punching the 5-foot tall, 15-year-old girl in the face. He suspects Watts might not have taken such actions if the student were a 6-foot tall, 180-pound young man. The legal strategy is under evaluation based on the court’s decision.
Mark Boardman, representing Watts and Brian Clayton (the principal at the time, now superintendent of Hartselle City Schools), did not respond to requests for comments. The judge also dismissed claims against Clayton. The incident between Watts and the student, identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, was captured on bus video.
According to the student’s lawsuit, another student punched her in the stomach, and Watts escorted that student off the bus. Upon returning to Jane Doe, as she attempted to leave the bus, Watts grabbed her wrist and pushed her back into a seat, then pushed his forearm into her face, forcing her head back into the seat. In response, she bit Watts’ arm.
The lawsuit details that in retaliation, Watts began punching Jane Doe in the face with a closed fist, hitting her head twice more. While noting that hitting the student was inappropriate, the judge justified it as corporal punishment, responding to Jane Doe’s act of biting Watts’ arm. Considering the totality of circumstances, including minor injuries, the judge concluded that the force applied by Watts was not ‘obviously excessive,’ and no constitutional violations occurred.
Clayton, positioned at the bus’s front during the incident, faced claims that his failure to act violated Jane Doe’s constitutional rights. The judge dismissed allegations against Clayton, citing insufficient facts from Jane Doe to demonstrate a constitutional violation.