Parents of beaten teen sue school district
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com November 14, 2011 9:14PM
Osama Haddad, right, gestures while answering a question during a press conference in Merrillville Monday Nov. 14, 2011. Haddad's wife Hind is at left. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 16, 2011 8:11AM
The parents of a 17-year-old Lake Central High School student are suing the district after he suffered a severe beating at the hands of classmates on Nov. 8.
The suit alleges that David Osama Haddad was bullied by the perpetrators for more than a year before the altercation. At a Monday press conference, the family’s attorney Kenneth Allen argued that district officials knew of the physical and verbal abuse that targeted Haddad’s Middle Eastern background, yet they did little to prevent further violence.
“The principal (Robert McDermott) turned a blind eye to the repeated bullying and harassment of this student,” Allen said. “Inaction by those in charge in the face of injustice cannot be tolerated.”
Lake Central Superintendent Larry Veracco did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. Veracco is named as a defendant in the suit, along with School Board President George Baranowski, Principal Robert McDermott, and Assistant Principal Sean Begley Jr.
Haddad was attacked in the hallway of Lake Central High School, and he suffered traumatic brain injury, which Allen said has affected his vision and balance. Pictures released by Allen’s office show Haddad with bruising on his face, and he also suffered hematomas on the back of his head.
Haddad’s parents Osama and Hind Haddad, who are originally from Jordan, were emotional when talking about how difficult it was to see their son in pain.
Allen said that harassment started out as verbal threats — such as calling David “Little bin Laden” or “Little Osama” — but it escalated into physical threats about a year ago. A group of boys came to Haddad’s house at night and tried to remove him, Allen said. The family filed a police report, and Hind Haddad spoke with the principal, who assured her that he would talk with the boys’ parents.
But the threats increased in frequency, culminating in the beating on Nov. 8. The Haddads said that rather than call an ambulance, they were contacted to pick up their son at school because he may need to see a doctor. St. John Police could not be reached for comment on whether they are investigating the incident.
The suit identifies the perpetrators as five senior students and one junior. In addition, another senior is named as part of the group that is restrained from contacting Haddad or his family members. Names are being withheld since the students haven’t been charged with anything at this point. Allen suggested that the alleged bullies may have been protected by their status as star athletes.
“When motivation or it involves racial slurs, it immediately is a game changer,” Allen said. “It escalates response of principal to do something about it, and it has to be very severe. The reality is if the principal or the administration is denying that they ever had any notice then they are not being truthful.”
The suit accuses the defendants of negligence, violating the equal protection clause and procedural due process of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It seeks compensatory damages,
“I think they really want justice,” Allen said in response to a question about the suit’s aim. “To allow their son a normal life and to provide a safe environment for children.”