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Schools: Arrest over gum wrapper leads to student’s suit

By Charles Swenson

The father of a Waccamaw Middle School student who was arrested after allegedly hitting a teacher with a gum wrapper he was trying to throw in a waste basket has filed suit against the Georgetown County School District and the sheriff’s office for negligence, false arrest and defamation. The suit seeks actual, consequential and punitive damages “to deter future misconduct,” according to the complaint filed last week. The suit stems from a November incident in a keyboarding class taught by Ernest Frasier. The student, 13, tossed the gum wrapper at the waste basket as Frasier took attendance. It landed near the teacher, but “never actually came into contact with his person,” the suit claims. Frasier confronted four students to find out who threw the wrapper. He threatened to issue discipline referrals to all of them, according to the sheriff’s office incident report. The plaintiff admitted throwing it, but tried to explain he “did not mean to throw it in the direction of the teacher,” the suit states. Frasier asked the principal to pursue criminal charges, saying “he was not going to be disrespected,” according to the incident report. He said the wrapper hit his arm. The school resource officer, Tiffany Kinloch, obtained a warrant for third degree assault and battery. The case was dismissed by the solicitor’s office within two weeks. School district and sheriff’s office staff should have known the student’s actions “did not amount to a crime of any kind,” according to the suit, filed by Carter Elliott on behalf of the student and his father. Instead, the district’s staff “insisted” and the sheriff’s office “improperly arrested and attempted to prosecute” the student. The suit claims the actions were negligent because the school district and sheriff’s office failed to implement policies and train employees to handle such situations, causing the student “to be improperly arrested and prosecuted for no justifiable reason.” The student and his father suffered “extreme stress” as a result of the “use of unreasonable measures as a form of punishment.” They also seek damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Because an account of the incident was published in the newspaper, the plaintiffs also seek damages for defamation. In addition to being humiliated, the student was “terrified with the prospect of a criminal prosecution and punishment for a crime he did not commit.” The family had to hire a criminal defense attorney. In the civil suit, the family asks for a jury trial.

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