5 Midland Christian educators file federal lawsuit

Aug. 30—MIDLAND — Five educators from Midland Christian School have sued the City of Midland, the Midland Police Department, and Detective Jennie Alonzo, following the exoneration of the five on false allegations that they failed to report a sexual assault in January, a news release said.

The school's investigation determined what happened was "nothing more than locker room horseplay among members of the baseball team." Nearly 90 days later, a Midland County grand jury investigating the incident declined to indict any of the five plaintiffs in the case," the release said.

They are: Former Superintendent Jared Lee; former Principal Dana Ellis; former Assistant Principal Matthew Counts; former Athletic Director Greg McClendon; and former Head Baseball Coach Barry Russell.

"My clients want their lives and their reputations back. They want people in Midland to know the truth. And the truth is there was never a sexual assault, and therefore there was nothing to hide, nothing to report and nothing they did wrong. They are all dedicated educational professionals and they want everyone, including potential employers of the future, to know — after our case is done — that a federal court jury found the allegations were false and totally unfounded," attorney Rusty Hardin said in a statement Tuesday.

In February, CBS 7 reported that according to the arrest affidavits for all five faculty members, on or about Jan. 20, a student-athlete was sexually assaulted with a baseball bat in a locker room.

The court documents report the coaches and administrators knew about the sexual assault and were instructed to investigate on their own without contacting law enforcement.

On Jan. 28, Midland Police were made aware of a possible sexual assault at Midland Christian School. MPD interviewed the victim of the assault on Feb. 11.

According to the court documents, MPD investigators went to the school on Feb. 11 to talk to the Superintendent who was out of the office. Instead, MPD spoke with the principal of the secondary school who told them she was aware an incident was documented but could not provide any documents to police.

The following Monday, Feb. 14, Lee called investigators and, according to the affidavit, refused to answer any questions and requested police obtain a search warrant.

Later that day, MPD was able to search Midland Christian School with a warrant and found documentation of the assault that was created on Feb. 11 or Feb. 12, the station reported.

In the affidavit, MPD also reports finding emails between the coaches, administrators, and initial complaints that allege the faculty members refused to report the assault.

"This was one of the most egregious cases of irresponsible police action I've seen in decades of practicing law," Hardin said in the release. "This detective personally decided that these educational professionals were guilty, despite a complete lack of credible evidence and impeccable reputations. She then embarked on a course of conduct designed to ruin their careers."

The release from Rusty Hardin & Associates states that according to the lawsuit, the locker room incident happened in January 2022, when a sophomore player poked a freshman player on the buttocks — over his clothes — with a bat, the release said. By the time the story reached the police department a week and a half later, the details had been embellished to the point that there was a claim the freshman had been sexually assaulted, the release said.

The lawsuit says at no time did any school official have reasonable cause to believe the freshman had been sexually assaulted. The freshman himself denied repeatedly that it was anything more than roughhousing in the locker room. When they were asked, all of the students involved gave the same version of the events.

"What happened here is that Midland Police had tunnel vision. They heard a false, unreliable report from a parent based on schoolhouse gossip and went with it," attorney Rusty Hardin said.

The release says the lawsuit accuses investigators of carrying out a "false, biased, and vindictive campaign against the plaintiffs, including arresting the five on school grounds and then 'perp-walking' them in front of news cameras that the police arranged to be present.

The filing also accuses Alonzo of swearing to information she knew to be false in an arrest warrant affidavit, most seriously that the school knew of a sexual assault and failed to report it — which the release from Hardin's office says was not true.