Plaintiff's attorney Joseph Low delivers his opening statement. Click here to see video from the trial.
Bakersfield - Opening statements began Thursday in a California state court lawsuit filed against the Kern County School District by a former student who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a football rally after being attacked for mocking the opposing team while dressed in a chicken suit, claiming a school administrator encouraged the stunt.
Plaintiff Mitchell Carter was the class president of Bakersfield High School in 2010 when he donned the chicken suit with the support of Bakersfield High’s school activities director Anna Lovan, according to his attorney. Carter was rushed by angry students from the opposing team and told Lovan he wanted to take off the suit, but she allegedly replied that if he did that he would be responsible for the suit’s $75 rental fee.
The next time Carter went out he was jumped by a mob of students from Clovis West High School, who punched and kicked him while he lay on the floor in an attack that has been widely viewed in an online video of the incident. Carter claims the effects of his brain injury have left him struggling with depression, anxiety and other psychological issues.
The trial is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
Carter’s attorney Joseph Low of Carpenter Zuckerman and Rowley LLP told jurors that the Kern County School District failed to provide a safe, secure and peaceful environment during the rally, that it had inadequate policies in place to prevent such a melee, and that it took too long for school staff to break up the fight.
Despite Carter’s apprehension after being attacked for the first time, Low claimed that Lovan assured him he would be safe.
“Nobody’s going to touch you,” Low claimed she said. He did not ask the jurors for a specific amount of damages, as they will first have to determine whether or not the school district is liable for Carter’s injuries.
Defense attorney Michael Kellar argued during his opening statement that Carter chose to go back into the rally a second time, and he disputed the claim that Lovan threatened to make him pay for the suit if he took it off. He told jurors that Carter came up with the idea for wearing the suit on his own, and that school administrators didn’t know about it before the rally began.
“What transpired at the rally … was not planned, was not approved by anyone in a position of authority at the high school,” Kellar said. “Mr. Carter volunteered to wear that chicken suit.”
The case is Mitchell Carter v. Kern High School District, case number S1500CV275395 in Kern County Superior Court.
E-mail David Siegel at [email protected]