West Virginia Record

Friday, February 28, 2020

Lawsuit filed by former Berkeley Heights Elementary School teachers' aides against media dismissed

State Court

By Kyla Asbury | Jan 20, 2020

School

MARTINSBURG – A lawsuit filed against more than a dozen media companies by two teachers' aides involved in the alleged abuse of special needs students in Berkeley County was dismissed.

Attorney Ben Salango spoke on "Panhandle Live" last week, saying that June Yurish and Kristen Douty's suit was thrown out against all of the defendants.

"The teachers' aides who were sued in the case turned around and sued all the media defendants; they sued Nancy Grace, they sued West Virginia Radio, they sued the television stations; the judge threw that out yesterday,” Salango said on the news program. "She recognized what it was; she followed the law. Speech on the radio, the newspaper, even my speech is protected by the First Amendment. She quickly recognized that. She followed the law. She threw that case out."

The former teachers' aides filed the lawsuit against the 17 media companies back in May in Berkeley Circuit Court, claiming the audio recording violated the state's wiretapping and surveillance act.

Douty and Yurish filed the suit against Nexstar Media Group; Greer Industries; Shenandoah Communications; RSV NG; Bowles Rice; Preston & Salango; Adrian Wood; Barrington Broadcasting Group; Cunningham Broadcasting Corp.; Deerfield Media; E.W. Scripps Co.; GOCOM Media of Illinois; Gray Television; Howard Stirk Holdings; New Age Media; Roberts Media; Sinclair Broadcasting Group; Tegna; Thomas Broadcasting Co.; and Waitt Broadcasting.

The plaintiffs alleged that Bowles Rice provided a transcript of the recording for the Berkeley school board and Preston & Salango published the audio recording on its website.

The media outlets, "played edited clips of the unlawful recording, which had the effect of misleading the listener into believing that defendants were making statements to special-needs students, rather than to other teachers," the complaint stated.

"It was known by all defendants that the footage came from a secret recording which was placed in the hair of (Amber Pack's minor daughter) and for which no consenting party was present," the complaint stated.

Yurish and Douty claimed the widespread proliferation of the "misleadingly edited footage, and the ensuing public mob it engendered," caused the school board to fire them.

The aides claimed they suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the release of the footage.

The aides were seeking $907,258.48 in lost salary for Douty; $307,971.76 in lost salary for Yurish; compensation for lost health care benefits and pain and suffering in the amount of $1 million each; and punitive damages in the amount of $5 million. They were also seeking an order for the recording to no longer be published. They were represented by Christian J. Riddell of the Law Offices of Stedman & Riddell.

In February of last year, Amber Pack filed a lawsuit against the school board.

In October 2018, Adrianna Pack, a non-verbal 6-year-old with autism was a student at Berkeley Heights Elementary School and was enrolled in Christina Lester's first-grade special education class where Yurish and Douty were aides.

Adrianna Pack exhibited signs of emotional distress and would cry both before and after school and on Oct. 2, she returned home from school with suspicious bruising on her arms and was crying and vomiting, according to that suit.

Amber Pack claimed she placed an audio recording device into her daughter's hair on Oct. 4 when she was returning to school and listened to the recording when her daughter returned home.

In the recording, Lester, Yurish and Douty allegedly made numerous inappropriate, abusive and threatening comments to Adrianna Pack, including threatening to punch her in the face, threatening to pull her hair until she would cry, calling her names, threatening to backhand her and asking her to massage the teacher and/or the aides' feet, according to the suit.

Amber Pack claimed she provided a copy of the audio recording to the Martinsburg Police Department the following day and the police department provided the recording to Boeckmann, the principal of the school.

Boeckmann contacted Amber Pack and told her the teacher and aides would not hurt her child or any other child and that they were talking to each other and not the children, according to the suit.

Amber Pack claimed Boeckman also failed to report the incident to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Child Protective Services Division as required by law.

Superintendent Manny Arvon, Assistant Superintendent David Banks and Special Education Coordinator Karen Petrucci were provided a copy of the recording on Oct. 11, 2018, and they informed Amber Pack that the teacher and aides were still teaching at the school. On Nov. 2, 2018, Arvon contacted Pack to inform her the teacher and aides were on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. The three were later allowed to resign from their employment with the county.

Lester, Yurish and Douty were arrested in August.

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