BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. (WDVM) — Two former teacher aides from Berkeley Heights Elementary School have filed a lawsuit against several media companies which broadcasted audio that was secretly recorded in the classroom.
Kristin Douty and June Yurish, who worked in a special needs classroom, filed the lawsuit against 17 media companies.
The audio recording came from a device that a seven-year-old student’s mother, Amber Pack, hid in her daughter’s hair, which captured verbal abuse. The Martinsburg Police Department received a complaint from Pack on October 5, 2018, that her child had been harassed by members of the school staff.
One part of the audio captured an adult saying: “I ought to backhand you right in your teeth. How’s that for anxiety?”
The lawsuit filed by the former teacher aides claims that Pack’s daughter “was not legally capable of consenting, was not offered the opportunity to give her consent, and did not, at any point, give actual consent,” and that Pack “unlawfully disseminated” the recordings to various media groups.
Pack’s Attorney, Ben Salango, said West Virginia is a one-party consent state and that courts all over the country have held that there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public classroom. One-party consent means conversations can be recorded as long as one person in the conversation is consenting.
Pack told WDVM in February that she complained to the school, but that administrators swept the incident under the rug. It wasn’t until she posted the recording on social media that the school placed two employees on administrative leave, Pack said.
The Berkeley County Board of Education confirmed in a statement that both aides and the teacher involved, Christina Lester, were “no longer employed.” In February, the Director of Berkeley County Schools, Elaine Bobo, confirmed the two aides put in their resignations.
The media companies that are being sued 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.
Nexstar Media Group, Inc. is the parent company of WDVM.
Since the investigation began, former Berkeley County Board of Education Superintendent Manny Arvon resigned, after parents complained during a school board meeting and called for the resignations of multiple officials.
Late last month, the Berkeley County Board of Education filed a counter-lawsuit against Amber Pack, claiming the recording is illegal and should be excluded from evidence in the case. On April 30, it was announced that the BOE voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, the Attorney General of West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey, announced he is seeking additional charges against Berkeley Heights Principal Amber Boeckmann, Berkeley County Deputy Superintendent Margaret F. Kursey and the Berkeley County Board of Education.
When WDVM first reported the story in February, the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Catie Wilkes Delligatti issued a statement:
“In the fall of 2018, Prosecuting Attorney Catie Wilkes Delligatti, along with her office’s victim’s advocate and investigator, met with Kasey Murphy and Amber Pack, the mothers of two children who had previously attended Berkeley Heights Elementary School. Ms. Pack provided an audio recording of eight hours in the classroom, which was thoroughly reviewed by Investigator Scott Dillon. Investigator Dillon found that the recording contained numerous instances of verbal abuse that are frankly unconscionable.
The audio recording had also been previously investigated by the Martinsburg City Police Department, and Chief Richards stated that his Department was unable to determine that the evidence met the elements of a criminal offense.