The Alamance-Burlington school board has filed a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit filed this fall over what the plaintiffs describe as a brutal stabbing of a now-former student at Cummings High School, Makiya Bradsher.
Bradsher and her mother, Shannon Bradsher, filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in late October against ABSS and a Cummings High School teacher, identified as Tonya Jane Cope.
The suit alleges that the defendants failed to protect Makiya Bradsher from being stabbed by another student nine times in the head, face, and chest at Cummings High School while waiting for her first class to start October 11, 2022.
The plaintiffs claim in their suit that the alleged perpetrator, whom they identify as Meyka Haith-Herbin, had a “long, documented history” of violence and crime, some of which resulted in criminal convictions that Haith-Herbin was believed to have been on probation for, according to the lawsuit.
The suit further alleges that the teacher, Cope, permitted Haith-Herbin to launch into a verbal attack before repeatedly stabbing Bradsher and allegedly made no effort to intervene.
The suit lists Makiya Bradsher, 18, and her mother, Shannon Bradsher, as residents of Burlington, and Cope as a resident of Graham.
Makiya Bradsher contends that Haith-Herbin tried to provoke a fight with her the morning of October 11, shouting at Bradsher, “Do you want to fight me?” before “publicly [forecasting] her intent to physically attack Makiya [Bradsher],” the suit alleges. “Haith-Herbin approached Makiya, pulled out a knife and began to physically beat and stab Makiya,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit alleges that Makiya Bradsher was “stabbed nine times in the head, face, and chest and suffered lacerations and trauma,” which could have killed her and required four staples in her head and three stitches in her face near her temple.
Earlier this month, an attorney representing the school board for the suit filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the board has not waived its immunity, which typically protects local units of government, including school boards, from being held liable in lawsuits filed to recover monetary damages.
Local governments and public officials can be held liable for alleged negligent acts and/or omissions if they purchase general liability insurance or other protection against lawsuits filed to collect compensation. ABSS has general insurance coverage for claims up to $150,000 through the North Carolina School Boards Trust, but that “expressly is not considered a waiver of governmental liability,” as defined under a portion of the state’s public education law that governs liability insurance and immunity, the school board asserts in its response to the suit.
The school board also argues that the plaintiffs have failed to state a “plausible claim” on which relief may be granted, such as an award for a specific amount of monetary or punitive damages.
Meanwhile, Cope also filed her own response to the suit in federal court two weeks ago.
Cope, the teacher whom the lawsuit alleges had been an eyewitness to the stabbing, had been named as a defendant to the lawsuit because she “had personal knowledge or actual notice of a student altercation or other situation” that posed an immediate threat to safety and did nothing to intervene.
Like the defendant school board, Cope contends in her response to the suit that she is also immune to such legal claims, under “governmental immunity, public officials’ immunity, and qualified immunity” and that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim on which relief may be granted.
Cope’s response to the suit outlines more than a dozen additional defenses, including that her “actions, practices and policies by which [the] plaintiffs complain…have been necessary to the orderly, safe and efficient operation of Cummings High School.” She also contends that her actions on the day of the fight and subsequent stabbing “were not arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or discriminatory” and that she “complied in good faith with all applicable laws and regulations.”
Cope further argues that the suit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust other, administrative remedies available to them.
Cope admits in her response that Makiya Bradsher, then 17, was in a fight with another student, Haith-Herbin, at Cummings High School on October 11, 2022 and “was stabbed during said fight” but denies any personal culpability in the injuries that Bradsher is said to have sustained as a result of the stabbing.
In their suit, the plaintiffs allege that Cope should’ve admonished Haith-Herbin when she first announced her intention to assault the other student; and Cope could’ve sought help from other school employees, including the school resource officer, but instead stood “idly by” and was deliberately indifferent to the threat.
Neither her response nor the Cummings High School faculty directory indicate whether Cope remains employed at Cummings.
The school board was named as a defendant for allegedly breaching its duty to train staff to recognize threats and prevent violence at school and to prevent students from entering schools with weapons, among other alleged negligent breaches of its duties.
Makiya Bradsher ultimately left Cummings and never returned, and has continued to “suffer physical, emotional, and pecuniary losses, including but not limited to physical injury,” as well as scars, disfigurement, and permanent injury, according to her suit.
In addition to an unspecified amount in damages, the plaintiffs are seeking recovery of costs and attorneys’ fees related to the court action. They are being represented by the Edwards Beightol law firm in Raleigh.
The federal case file gives no indication that a judge has ruled yet on either of the defendants’ motions to dismiss the lawsuit.
The school board is being represented by attorney David B. Noland of the Tharrington Smith law firm in Raleigh. Cope is being represented by Patrick H. Flanagan and Taylor J. Sweet of the Cranfill Sumner law firm in Charlotte.