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Judge allows abuse claims against military school

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas military school said Tuesday that it's "confident" that it will win a court case brought by 11 former students, despite a judge's ruling that left intact for trial claims alleging the boarding school fostered a culture of abuse by allowing higher-ranking cadets to discipline younger ones.

The comments from St. John's Military School in Salina come a day after U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum found that the former students cited enough evidence that a reasonable jury could find the school's conduct "exceeded the bounds of decency and is intolerable in a modern society."

The cadets claim that the school had a system that allowed some students to physically discipline other students and that it had notice that such discipline caused physical harm and still failed to protect the cadets.

Among the plaintiffs is Jesse Mactagone, a 14-year-old boy from Auburn, Calif., who suffered two broken legs during the four days he attended St. John's Military School in August 2012. After learning of the judge's ruling, his mother, Jennifer Mactagone, sent an email Tuesday saying, "I look forward to presenting our claims to the jury!!! Can't WAIT!"

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in March.

In his ruling Monday, the judge dismissed 10 of the 44 claims brought by the students. He said five students claimed only physical abuse and did not specify emotional distress, and therefore they could not bring emotional distress claims at trial.

St. John's President Andy England said Tuesday that the school is glad the court's decision narrowed the claims for trial.

"I think it is important to understand that this ruling did not apply validity to any of the claims, but simply stated that some of them need to go before the jury," England said. "And we expected that, and again remain confident that having weighed all the evidence, the jury will find in favor of the school."

Each of the 11 students who sued has brought four claims against the school: negligent failure to supervise, intentional failure to supervise, negligent emotional distress, and intentional emotional distress, said Daniel Zmijewski, the attorney representing the former cadets.

"Obviously, we are very happy the order came down the way it did and we are preparing for trial," Zmijewski said. "The court's order recognized a significant number of facts that we will put in front of a jury and let them decide."

Lungstrum wrote in a 22-page ruling that jurors will have to determine whether the school's conduct was "sufficiently extreme." While the judge's decision was publicly filed, the motions for summary judgment on which it is based were for the most part filed under seal.

That means it will take a trial before the full extent of the case get a public airing. But an earlier filing cited evidence that nearly 340 current and former students have made complaints during the past five years to St. John's Military School claiming they were beaten, hazed, harassed or abused, including 21 who say they were branded.

In his ruling, the judge cited evidence that shows supervisors tolerated and even witnessed physical abuse by students of other students; that students complained and local police were called on a number of occasions; and that multiple lawsuits alleging physical abuse had been filed. The judge also cited evidence that the supervisors hired by the school were poorly paid and included people with criminal records.


(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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