A wide-ranging lawsuit implicating several current and former School District of Manatee County administrators filed by former Manatee High School football coach Joe Kinnan will have its first day in court Tuesday, as the school district seeks to have the suit dismissed.
Kinnan, also a former athletic director at Manatee, is suing the School Board, former superintendent Rick Mills and former investigator for the school board Troy Pumphrey on nine counts, including defamation, breach of contract, emotional distress, malicious prosecution and conspiracy. Kinnan filed the suit in September and is asking for a jury trial on eight counts and $15,000 for loss of consortium.
Kinnan’s lawsuit alleges that Mills overstepped his power as superintendent and used a wide array of techniques to intimidate, subjugate and ultimately force Kinnan out of the district.
“Mills engaged and recruited or intimidated others to help him in a pattern of conscious and malicious conduct targeting individuals and others that he perceived as political enemies, the actions for which fly far beyond the orbit of authority he was ordained with,” the lawsuit states.
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On Friday, Mills strongly denied the allegations in Kinnan’s suit.
“We deny the allegations in the complaint. Allegations are just that — allegations,” Mills said. “We are going to vigorously defend against the lawsuit.”
In the school board’s motion to dismiss, attorney Erin Jackson argued if Mills was acting outside the scope of his authority, the school board was not culpable. She cites a Florida statute stating that subdivisions of the state, which include school boards, are not liable for actions their employees commit outside the scope of their responsibilities, nor are boards liable if an employee acts within the scope of their responsibility with malice.
The lawsuit alleges in its fifth paragraph that at all times Mills and Pumphrey acted outside the scope of their authority — a claim that Jackson said clears the school board of liability under the state’s sovereign immunity statute.
“They can’t have their cake and eat it too,” Jackson said. “Under the statute, if (Mills and Pumphrey) are acting outside the scope of their authority, the school board can’t be held liable for what they did.”
Jackson is also seeking dismissal on the grounds that the 238-paragraph lawsuit does not clearly and succinctly state its case.
“It’s unclear what’s being alleged against the defendants,” Jackson said. “It’s long. They’ve thrown in the kitchen sink.”
The district’s motion to dismiss states that the lawsuit is “neither short nor plain,” and “it is nearly impossible to identify what specific factual allegations support the enumerated counts.”
Mills engaged and recruited or intimidated others to help him in a pattern of conscious and malicious conduct targeting individuals and others that he perceived as political enemies, the actions for which fly far beyond the orbit of authority he was ordained with.
- Joe Kinnan’s lawsuit
Kinnan’s lawsuit echos an August 2014 press conference from the steps of Bradenton City Hall, where he lashed out at Mills and the Florida High School Athletic Association, which fined Manatee more than $13,000 for violations involving the baseball team. At the same press conference Kinnan, who won five state championships and 290 games during his tenure as Manatee’s head football coach, questioned the hiring of John Booth to replace him at Manatee, saying several of his assistants were more qualified.
The ‘good ol’ boy network’
“This case stems from individuals seeking to advance their personal political agendas at the cost of destroying careers and reputations, all in the name of ‘protecting children,’” the suit begins, accusing Mills, Pumphrey and school board members of colluding in a “manipulative farce” at a high cost to taxpayers.
Over 84 pages, Kinnan’s suit claims that Mills, initially under the guidance of former school board member Julie Aranibar and current board member Karen Carpenter, went after what the suit describes as a fabricated “good ol’ boy” network. The suit also names former Executive Director of High Schools Mary Murry, former interim superintendent Bill Vogel, human resources analyst Roma Glisson, deputy superintendent Cynthia Saunders and the Florida Department of Education’s Professional Practices Service as being participants in a coordinated effort to smear Kinnan.
Carpenter declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing litigation.
Mills was led to believe that the “good ol’ boy network” — comprised of long-time supporters of Manatee High School in powerful district positions — favored Manatee over the other district schools, according to the suit.
Kinnan is accusing Mills of using two scandals at Manatee High School — the Roderick Frazier scandal and the Manatee baseball team scandal — to portray Kinnan as a corrupt coach who turned a blind eye toward students and staff being victimized by a sexual predator.
Kinnan said Mills used former district investigator Pumphrey to harass Kinnan repeatedly, threatening him with administrative actions and leaking false stories to the media, and he alleges the district used the legal system in a “perverted manner” to cause Kinnan emotional distress.
During the investigation into Frazier, a parent liaison and assistant football coach accused of inappropriately touching students and staff, Mills and Pumphrey encouraged witnesses to implicate Kinnan, promising one witness a promotion if he was able to tie Kinnan to the allegations of a cover-up, the suit states.
Kinnan alleges that Pumphrey, Mills, Aranibar and Carpenter promoted the “false narrative in the media and within the community that Frazier’s inappropriate behavior was well-known yet ignored, not investigated and covered by the Manatee football program.”
And during an investigation into former Manatee baseball coach Dwayne Strong, Kinnan’s suit states Pumphrey told him the investigation would “go away” if Kinnan retired.
Kinnan’s suit is the latest in a long list of lawsuits against the district from a tumultuous era that began before Mills arrived and continued after his departure.
Just the Frazier scandal, which is mentioned several times in Kinnan’s lawsuit, led to five lawsuits and $887,820.95 in settlement costs, legal fees and back pay reimbursement, according to the school district.
Dye said that Mills’ legal fees, due to a contractual agreement, are being covered by the school district at a rate of $165 an hour.
On Jan. 4, Kinnan requested $50,201.97 from the district to reimburse him for the cost of defending himself in the baseball team investigation and a Department of Education complaint, according to a letter obtained via a public records request. At Tuesday’s board meeting School Board attorney James Dye said the district declined his request because the actions were dismissed and Kinnan is not a current employee.
The letter from Kinnan’s lawyer Edwin T. Mulock to Dye implies another lawsuit is likely, due to the board’s decision to deny Kinnan legal fee reimbursement.
The letter states, “Mr. Kinnan intends to take legal action to recover his legal expenses, including additional legal expenses required to collect legal expenses already due, within days of the conclusion of the next SBMC meeting.”