KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Four juveniles who claimed a Kansas military school's practice of giving higher-ranking cadets authority to discipline younger cadets encouraged abuse reached settlement terms ranging from about $1.8 million to $55,000, according to federal court records released Wednesday.
Eleven former cadets from California, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Texas and Illinois filed a lawsuit in 2012 alleging that higher-ranking students, called "Disciplinarians," abused younger students at St. John's Military School in Salina, even in the presence of faculty members. The plaintiffs claimed negligent failure to supervise, intentional failure to supervise, as well as both negligent and intentional emotional distress.
A settlement was reached March 3, but no details were released until Wednesday. The 126-year-old Episcopalian boarding school has long denied a culture of abuse exists.
U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum held a hearing Wednesday to determine how lawyers arrived at the settlement amounts for the four minors in the case and said at the conclusion he determined the settlements were fair. The settlements for the four juveniles were for $55,000, $75,000, $100,000 and $1.8 million, about 40 percent of which would go to lawyers, according to affidavits released Wednesday.
Settlement terms for the adult plaintiffs were not subject to court approval and have not been disclosed. The court must approve settlements involving minors. Lawyers for both sides sought to keep the agreements for the juveniles sealed, but Lungstrum denied that motion.
Derek Johannsen, a lawyer for St. John's, reiterated Wednesday during the hearing that the school denies any wrongdoing and told the judge that if the case had gone to trial, lawyers for the school would have "hotly contested" the allegations. St. John's has noted that each student must sign an anti-hazing pledge and says its efforts to curb abuses have included installing surveillance cameras and conducting regular bruise checks of students.
Among the plaintiffs was Jesse Mactagone, a 14-year-old boy from Auburn, Calif., whose family went public with his claims that he was tormented by adults and students. He suffered two broken legs in separate incidents during the four days he attended the school in August 2012. That boy's settlement was for $1.8 million, to be allotted over several years. About $23,000 would go toward medical bills, according to the affidavit.
"If there was a case to obtain punitive damages that was the case," Daniel Zmijewski, a lawyer for plaintiffs, told the judge in explaining how the lawyers arrived at the settlement amount. He said the other cases largely didn't warrant as much money because of various factors, including a plaintiff's possible unwillingness to testify and the extent of physical or mental damage.
Other alleged incidents involved a Tennessee student who claims his stomach was branded as a rite of initiation and an Illinois boy who says his eye socket as fractured after he was kneed in the head by a higher-ranking cadet. It's unclear if either of those were among four juveniles.
Johannsen and Zmijewski declined additional comment, citing confidentiality terms of the settlement.