In 2016, a Woodland Hills student, then 13 years old, had to use the bathroom before class, which made her late for class. When she emerged, school Resource Officer Stephen Shaulis confronted her and pulled her into his office, where he allegedly slammed her head into a wall, and on a desk, multiple times.
She ended up with a concussion—and was charged with disorderly conduct.
Another student, who was 14 years old at the time, had his teeth knocked out, allegedly by the same officer. Still another received a broken wrist. But this week, they and two other students received something else—a settlement to the civil rights lawsuit filed on their behalf last year in excess of $500,000.
An Oct. 8 press statement by Attorneys Todd Hollis and Timothy P. O’Brien originally announced the settlement. “The parties have agreed—subject to court approval—to settle the students’ claims in excess of half a million dollars,” the statement provided to the Courier and other media outlets read.
The statement also said that “the plantiffs brought this lawsuit to ensure that society’s most vulnerable members—our children—would never again be subject to a culture of violence and sub-standard education while attending the Woodland Hills School District. As a result of the lawsuit great progress has been made. There is a new Superintendent and high school Principal. There is a commitment on their part—and the School District’s—to end the violence and guarantee that no Woodland Hills student is again a victim of the ‘school-to-prison’ pipeline.
“This lawsuit shows that courageous citizens and dedicated community activists, coming together, can correct injustices and create real change.”
A news conference was scheduled for 11 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 10, to elaborate further on the matter. When reached by the New Pittsburgh Courier for comment on Oct. 9, Hollis declined, pointing to the news conference as to when he would make public comments.
New Woodland Hills Superintendent James P. Harris Jr. told the Courier, Oct. 9, that he would not comment on legal matters. However, he told the Courier he was “glad that it’s been settled, I’m glad that we can move forward.”
Harris continued: “The students should be supported and the families that were involved. The new administration, the new board 100 percent supports a safe environment for education. This helps us move forward.”
The August 2017 lawsuit brought federal civil rights charges against Resource Officer Shaulis, another Churchill officer (Chris Lewandowski), the Woodland Hills School District, then-Superintendent Alan Johnson, former high school principal Kevin Murray, Assistant Principal Patrick Scott, and Dynasty Security, which provided additional security at the school.
“The United States Constitution and common sense require that no child be subject to violence and abuse at school,” the joint statement by Hollis and O’Brien read. “We have been honored to join with the plaintiffs as their counsel to remedy these past abuses and make sure they never happen again.”
Brandi Fisher with the Alliance for Police Accountability, and whom has worked side-by-side with Hollis throughout the ordeal, told the Courier in an exclusive interview, Oct. 9, that the settlement was “significant. It’s significant because there was a real problem that students were being abused. Significant because we can’t always believe people in power. We must make sure that we look into anything that impacts children in such an egregious way.”
Fisher, who said she was scheduled to attend the Oct. 10 news conference, said that if anything is taken away from the settlement, it’s that “young people need to know that their voice matters and they can advocate for change effectively.”
Fisher applauded the students for their “courage, their tenacity, their consistency and their fortitude. Without them being courageous enough to tell someone, to get in front of cameras saying they were abused, we wouldn’t see this great day today.”
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