The family of a 14-year-old Crofton boy killed in a gang-related dispute last May filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Tuesday against the Anne Arundel County Board of Education and others, contending that school officials knew the youth faced violent threats and failed to protect him.
The lawsuit by Jennifer Adkins and David Jones, parents of Christopher David Jones, also seeks $10 million from the parents of two teens who struck Christopher while he was bicycling near home — both youths were convicted of manslaughter as juveniles — and the parents of three juveniles and an 18-year-old who the lawsuit says egged them on.
The lawyer for Christopher's family, Richard L. Jaklitsch, said the goal of the lawsuit filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court is to hold people accountable. It reveals the names of the youths who were not charged.
"If you've going to kill somebody, you're going to be held accountable. And if it's not on the criminal side, it's going to be on the civil side," he said. " We're trying to prevent someone else's kid from dying.,"
The lawsuit seeks $200,000 from the public school system, the maximum allowed under state law. Jaklitsch said Adkins and Jones believe that the school system "dropped the ball, they did nothing" and that the justice system was too lenient in dealing with the youths.
Christopher's death turned a national spotlight on suburban teen gangs. It spurred legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly this week that attempts to break down communication barriers about youth gang activity between schools and law enforcement.
His death also renewed a neighborhood push to open a Crofton community center and spurred an effort by the church Christopher attended to found a youth center in his memory. But it also inspired a retaliatory firebombing of a Piney Orchard townhouse — though the targeted teenager was neither home nor involved in Christopher's death - for which a former gang member was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Three juveniles also were found to have played a role.
Bob Mosier, a spokesman for the school system, declined to comment. The other defendants are the parents of Javel George and Trey Robinson, the youths who struck Christopher; the parents of Deonte Murphy, Jay Battle and Danyal Bakhsh; and 18-year-old Eric Ali, all of Crofton. Neither they nor their lawyers could be reached for comment.
The assault took place about 4 p.m. May 30 on Nantucket Drive, several hundred feet from the townhouse where Adkins was waiting for her son, who was bicycling home. Two youths struck him. He fell to the ground as he struggled to peddle home. He died of injuries caused by the blows.
Christopher was not involved in any of the loosely organized crews in Crofton. But he had friends among in a group of students calling themselves The New Threat, or TNT, which was apparently feuding with a rival gang, the East Side Diamonds, or ESD.
Christopher was a ninth-grader at Arundel High School when he was threatened. The suit alleges that Tanja Wheeler, then an assistant principal there, knew that Christopher's "life was in danger" but failed to contact his parents after someone threatened to stab him in the school cafeteria. The suit says that after Adkins repeatedly called Wheeler, they met on April 30, when Wheeler advised Adkins to transfer Christopher to South River High School.
The suit says that Adkins agreed to the transfer after Wheeler promised to notify the county police and other authorities and take other protective measures. But Wheeler "failed to take any action to fulfill these promises" and put Christopher's life in "imminent danger."
"Not a single promise was kept and no action whatsoever to protect Christopher Jones was taken to protect his life or safety," the lawsuit contends.
Mosier, the schools' spokesman, said Wheeler now works in library and media services at the school system's central office.
The Crofton youths who were convicted as juveniles in Christopher's death could be kept in juvenile facilities until they turn 21. They are Trey Robinson, then 14, who Anne Arundel County prosecutors said threw the first punch, and Javel M. George, then 16.
Anne Arundel County prosecutors said last year that the two were in a small group that approached Christopher over something derogatory they thought he had said. The younger assailant delivered the first blow, punching Christopher once in the left cheek. The older one struck him on the other side of the face. The blows damaged an artery.
No one else was charged. The lawsuit alleges that the other four teenagers "encouraged and incited this violent assault" and blocked Christopher from leaving.