Amended suit alleges new abuses at Kansas school
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A California boy attends only four days at a Kansas military boarding school where he is tormented by staff and students after breaking both his legs in separate incidents. A Tennessee student's stomach is forcibly branded as a rite of initiation. A Florida cadet breaks his hand fending off a student with a history of sexual abuse who tries to grope him, and school officials refuse to investigate or inform his parents of the attack.
These claims are the latest additions to a growing list of former cadets who allege in a federal lawsuit they were abused at St. John's Military School in Salina, Kan. An amended complaint filed Friday in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., now includes six sets of named parents who have filed on behalf of cadets, plus one ex-cadet who is now an adult. The plaintiffs come from California, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Texas and Illinois.
The Episcopal boarding school, which charges families nearly $30,000 per year for students enrolled in grades 6-12, draws students from across the nation.
Two new defendants are named in the revised lawsuit: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas, entities which the suit says created the school.
"The parents of these kids don't want any other kids to suffer the way their kids did," said Dan Zmijewski, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.
Their lawsuit, which was initially filed March 5, contends that the school allows and encourages older students to physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually abuse young students. According to court filings, the legal action purports to chronicle a "dangerous and disturbing culture at a boy's military school which must end."
St. John's has settled nine previous abuse-related lawsuits filed since 2006, court records show.
Amid widening media coverage of the latest lawsuit, more parents and cadets are coming forward with stories of abuse, Zmijewski said.
"It is just more kids who suffered extreme abuse at the hands of students while staff is watching — and is more indicative of what is going on there," he said.
Derek Johannsen, an attorney for St. John's, sent an email statement Saturday on the school's behalf. In it, he said the school denies the existence of a culture of abuse, and pointed out that St. John's has a 120-year history of helping young men develop skills in a safe environment.
"(The school's) objective is to provide a rigorous academic environment, opportunity for religious introspection and a structured campus life to help develop young men with the highest degree of self-discipline and self-confidence," the statement read.
Johannsen also wrote that some of the allegations in the lawsuit were investigated by law enforcement and no charges were filed. He said a formal response to the amended complaint will be filed soon.
In a separate settlement last year, the school argued it had made reasonable efforts to curb abuses, noting military schools nationwide have a problem with hazing. St. John's installed surveillance cameras in the hallways and instituted weekly bruise checks.
The new filing includes as an exhibit the California boy's X-ray, showing abuse so severe that the right femur bone was displaced several inches above the knee. Also included in the court filing is a photograph that had been posted on Facebook depicting a uniformed cadet from Texas gagged, blindfolded and bound with black duct tape.
Other allegations come from a Texas boy who was urinated on by other students in the shower, a Colorado student who was beaten in a van in front of a faculty member after trying to hitchhike home to escape earlier abuse and an Illinois cadet who suffered a fractured eye socket after being kneed in the head.