Two teacher aides who lost their jobs in West Virginia following allegations that they harassed special needs students are suing several media companies that disseminated a secret recording of the alleged verbal abuse.
A recording device hidden in a mentally disabled student’s hair captured eight hours of audio with “numerous instances of verbal abuse,” prosecutors said. One adult can be heard saying, "I ought to backhand you right in your teeth. How's that for anxiety?” Hagerstown, Md.'s WDVM-TV reported.
Former aides Kristin Douty and June Yurish filed a lawsuit against 17 media companies in May, claiming the outlets violated state and federal wiretapping laws by airing clips of the audio recording, the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported.
The two women are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost salary and retirement income, compensation for lost health care benefits, $1 million each for pain, suffering and emotional distress damages, and punitive damages of $5 million or a sufficient amount to deter similar conduct in the future, the newspaper said.
Amber Pack chose to hide the audio recording device in her daughter’s hair when she suspected her child was being harassed by staff at Berkeley Heights Elementary School. After hearing what the device captured, she filed a harassment complaint with the Martinsburg Police Department on Oct. 5, 2018. West Virginia is a one-party consent state, meaning conversations can be legally recorded as long as one party agrees.
Pack said she chose to post clips of the recording to social media after school administrators failed to take action against its staff, WDVM reported. The media outlets involved in the suit further disseminated the recording by broadcasting it on air and quoting it online.
Douty and Yurish resigned from their teaching aide positions in February. Another woman, Christina Lester, who worked as a teacher in the special needs classroom was “no longer employed” was the school, the Berkeley County Board of Education confirmed in a statement.
The Berkeley County Board of Education filed a counter-lawsuit against Pack, claiming the recording is illegal and should be excluded from evidence in the case, WDVM reported. The board voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit against the mother April 30.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Tuesday that he is pursuing additional charges against Berkeley Heights Principal Amber Boeckmann, Berkeley County Deputy Superintendent Margaret F. Kursey and the Berkeley County Board of Education for failing to take action to protect special needs students.
The media outlets listed on the lawsuit are: Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., Barrington Broadcasting Group, LLC, Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation, Deerfield Media, Inc., Gocom Media of Illinois, LLC, Gray Television, Inc. Howard Stirk Holdings, LLC, Roberts Media, LLC, New Age Media, Shenandoah Communications, Inc., Tegna, Inc., E.W. Scripps Company, Thomas Broadcasting Company, Waitt Broadcasting, Inc., Greer Industries, Inc., RSV NG, LLC and Nexstar Media Group, Inc.