New lawsuit filed against Woodland Hills administrators, school resource officers
A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Woodland Hills School District and others described a longstanding culture of violence in the high school in which adults, including a Churchill police officer, beat up students while administrators either assisted, looked the other way or remained indifferent.
Many of the civil rights claims are related to incidents involving Churchill police Officer Steve Shaulis, who served as a school resource officer until incidents of violence against students came to light.
A newly obtained video unveiled Wednesday shows Shaulis shoving a former student and then shocking him with a Taser in an incident more than eight years ago. It’s the third video to surface of Shaulis in a physical altercation with a student.
Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis, who represents five former students and their families in the lawsuit, released the videos.
The newly obtained one shows a student falling to the ground after Shaulis shocks him with a Taser in a school hallway on Feb. 10, 2009. Kevin Murray, an assistant principal at the time, stands next to Shaulis. At least one other adult shuffles by without taking any action while the student is on the ground.
Hollis played the video Wednesday during a Downtown news conference in which he and attorneys Timothy O’Brien and Margaret Coleman announced the filing of the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
The student in the 2009 video is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, but the attorneys said it shows a pattern of abuse at the school.
“When a child goes to school, they do not lose their constitutional rights,” O’Brien said. “How could any administrator or anybody in charge look at those videos and not hold anybody accountable?”
Woodland Hills School Board President Jamie Glasser and Churchill borough officials declined to comment.
Murray’s attorney, Phil DiLucente, said he did not receive a copy of the complaint before Wednesday’s news conference.
“At this juncture, I have not seen a complaint or reviewed it to give any comment at this time,” DiLucente said.
Likewise, Woodland Hills Superintendent Alan Johnson said the district would not comment until it had a chance to review the complaint. Johnson is a defendant in the lawsuit.
Tina Doose, Braddock’s council president and a district parent, attended the news conference and sat alongside the attorneys and Brandi Fisher of the Alliance For Police Accountability. In June, Doose was named to a commission to help repair relations between the district and its communities.
“They got away with these things because they weren’t being held accountable,” Doose said. “It’s time to change the culture at Woodland Hills. Our children deserve a new start.”
Controversy at Woodland Hills High School became public in late November when Hollis released an audio recording of Murray, who was principal at the time, threatening to knock a student’s teeth out.
“I’ll punch you right in your face, dude,” and “I’ll knock your (expletive) teeth down your throat,” Murray can be heard saying along with, “If we went to court, it’s your word versus mine, and mine wins every time.”
The lawsuit alleges Murray called the student a racial slur before the recording.
The district placed Murray on paid leave Nov. 30 during a criminal investigation and reinstated him in January after the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges.
Murray resigned last week as high school principal and is expected to receive a severance package that has not yet been made public. This month he resigned as head football coach for the Wolverines before getting an opportunity to coach a game.
In May, Hollis released two videos showing Shaulis involved in physical altercations with students.
Surveillance cameras showed the arrests of two black students. In a video from April 3, Shaulis can be seen dragging Que’chawn Wade, 14, into the school’s main office lobby. Off camera, Hollis said, Shaulis continued fighting with Wade and knocked out one of the teen’s teeth. The lawsuit alleges that a second Churchill officer, Chris Lewandowski, stood by and did nothing.
Video from a March 2015 incident shows Shaulis putting Ahmad Williams Jr., then 15, in a headlock, slamming him to the ground and shocking him twice with a Taser. Murray is shown in the footage helping to hold the teen down during the arrest for disorderly conduct. A judge later acquitted Williams of resisting arrest after the tape was played at trial.
Shaulis was removed from the school after the videos surfaced.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office are investigating whether Shaulis violated the students’ civil rights and committed any crimes. There have not been any updates on the investigation since May.
The attorneys contend in the lawsuit that teachers, administrators and other employees of the school district were “mandated reporters” under the state’s Child Services Protective Law.
“If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video has to speak a million,” Hollis said. “We’ve got three videos and one audio recording.”
Ben Schmitt and Jamie Martines are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Schmitt at email@example.com or 412-320-7991. Reach Martines at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-850-2867.