Student's paddling case was dropped by Dallas ISD police, district attorney says

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by By JASON TRAHAN and TAWNELL D. HOBBS / The Dallas Morning News

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Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 12:34 PM

A case involving a Lincoln High School student who was beaten with a canoe paddle by a coach could have been presented to a grand jury, but Dallas ISD police never followed up, according to county prosecutors.

Dallas ISD police sought advice in fall 2008 from the Dallas County district attorney's office in handling a case. But the district's police department never asked the district attorney to prosecute the case - and ended up dropping it.

"We did give some guidance to DISD police on some things that they could do to further their investigation, but we never heard back from them," said Terri Moore, top assistant to Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. "We never received a prosecution report from them. We have not turned away any case."

The Lincoln High School student was beaten so severely that the paddle split - but was taped up so the beating could continue. The student suffered severe bruising and welts to his lower back, buttocks and upper thighs and was referred to a doctor for care, according to a Dallas ISD investigative report obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Paddling is prohibited in Dallas public schools, but it is legal in Texas.

The student received up to 21 strikes in the spring 2007 incident, which was witnessed by seven members of the football coaching staff.

The district's Office of Professional Responsibility began investigating the incident shortly after a parent reported it to the district's child abuse office on Sept. 5, 2008.

The OPR reported the incident to DISD's police department for possible criminal action. But the police department suspended the case, saying it was stale and lacked photographs of the injuries. The police turned the case over to the OPR for an "administrative investigation," according to the report.

Moore said that even if there are no pictures, the case could possibly move forward based on statements from witnesses who saw the injuries, particularly a school nurse who examined the student.

"We'd evaluate it, follow through and present to the grand jury," she said, adding that it's part of a prosecutor's job to give police investigators advice.

DISD officials did not want to respond to Moore's comments on Thursday.

According to the investigative report, the student was removed from the football team for reasons that included a verbal altercation with a Lincoln security adviser who assisted the football team. Former football coach Jerry Sands, who has refused to comment on the incident, decided the student would have to take "licks" to be on the team, the report states.

The student agreed to take the paddling, but believed he was getting only five licks, according to the report. The student, who was unnamed in the report, told the investigator that he received 21 licks.

After the paddling, some witnesses heard Sands say, "What happens in the room stays in this room," according to the report.

Lincoln coach Tyson Garner, who witnessed the paddling, sent the student to see the nurse after it occurred. The student said he lied and told the nurse he had been injured playing football. The nurse was suspicious but did not file a "suspected child abuse report" because she was unaware of how the injuries occurred, according to the report.

The next morning, Garner noticed the student having trouble walking and again sent him to the nurse. The nurse gave him a referral slip to see a physician. The student said he left the school but did not see a doctor.

At least two employees have been disciplined or face possible disciplinary action over the paddling.

Lincoln principal Earl Jones, who was cited in the report for concealing the incident, was given a 20-day suspension last week, according to DISD trustee Ron Price. He will also be reassigned to another campus after this school year. Jones did not return a call seeking comment.

Sands, who had been Lincoln's football coach for five years, was placed on paid administrative leave in September and was still on leave Wednesday.

thobbs@dallasnews.com

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