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Cedar Creek Sued

Parents allege students sexually battered, bullied their son
Friday, September 17, 2021
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Note: New articles in this developing story: RPD: Cedar Creek case was investigated (Sept. 20)Cedar Creek plaintiffs are 'ready for trial' (Sept. 22)

The parents of a former Cedar Creek School student are suing the school and other parents, alleging their son was sexually battered and bullied by eight fellow students for months with no intervention from the school.

Lawyers representing Michael “Duffy” Conroy, an assistant men’s basketball coach at Louisiana Tech University, and his wife Nicole “Nikki” Conroy filed the lawsuit Wednesday in 3rd Judicial District Court in Ruston.

The suit claims eight male students at Cedar Creek subjected the oldest Conroy son to “bullying, verbal insults, physical assaults, and sexual battery” on a weekly, if not daily, basis from September of 2020 to May of 2021.

The alleged acts include more than 25 instances of sexual penetration with an object, many times on campus.

Since they are minors, the suit uses fictitious names for the Conroys’ son and the eight alleged perpetrators. But their parents are named as defendants.

They are: Terry “Tuna” Lowery and Lisa Barnett Lowery; Erik Austin Shepherd and Margaret “Ellen” Baxter Shepherd; Sommar Elizabeth McKoin Hall and Jonah Merle Jones; Robert Mitcham and Melissa Mitcham; Frank Ernest Johnson III and Erin Elizabeth Sheehan Johnson; Robert Charles “Chuck” Earle and Mary Anne “Andy” Hill; Lonnie Menzina and Jill Brown Menzina; and Clay Kenner McConnel and Leigh Baskin McConnell.

Also named as defendants in the suit are Head of School Andrew Yepson, Spanish teacher Zach Johnston, coach Jace Moss, coach Tyler Mann, two insurance carriers for the school and any unknown insurance carriers for the other defendants.

Robert Mitcham is Cedar Creek’s head basketball coach. Some of the acts against the Conroys’ son are alleged to have occurred during travel to athletic events, and several of the accused students also participated on the schools’ sports teams.

Lonnie Menzina was a member of the school’s board of directors at the time when many of the acts occurred, the suit claims.

As of Friday morning, the defendants hadn’t yet filed any response or counterclaims in court.

“We categorically deny all of the allegations made in the lawsuit and are evaluating appropriate legal responses, including the filing of a counter suit for libel and defamation,” Yepson said in a statement Friday.

“The allegations raised in the lawsuit were investigated by Cedar Creek as soon as they were brought to our attention in May 2021. Based on school policy, we took disciplinary action against several individual students. We have established an anonymous hotline for any member of the Cedar Creek community to report concerns or allegations regarding inappropriate behavior.”

The suit claims the roughly eight months of abuse and bullying culminated on May 13 of this year, which the accused students allegedly designated as “Paul Hell Day,” with Paul being the fictitious name of the Conroys’ son.

The students allegedly planned out the “Hell Day” beforehand online and wrote “Tomorrow is Hell Day make sure to bully him at least once.”

This was the first day the Conroys claim they became aware of the acts committed against their son, when Yepson called them some 10 hours after the “Hell Day” incident.

Many of the incidents of bullying and assault, the suit claims, would take place on campus before Johnston’s Spanish class, which was the first class of the day for the boys involved. 

As a COVID-related change in procedure that school year, students were expected to head directly to their first class instead of congregating in the gym. The suit claims Johnston was routinely late to his class, leaving the students unsupervised for up to 20 or 30 minutes.

Despite months of prior incidents, no one from the school contacted the Conroys about the behavior until “Paul Hell Day,” the suit claims.

The next day, multiple Cedar Creek coaches allegedly admitted to the Conroys that they had prior knowledge of what reportedly had been going on at school.

“I thought we nipped this in the bud during the basketball season… and basketball players aren’t even the worst,” the suit quotes Robert Mitcham as having said.

Three days after that, the Conroys claim they made a complaint with the Ruston Police Department concerning the physical and sexual battery committed on their son. The suit asserts that investigation is still ongoing, and “some individuals have been charged or summoned.”

The RPD did not return requests for comment by press time Friday.

The suit also says the Conroys have since withdrawn all of their children from Cedar Creek and “Cedar Creek either expelled or asked many of the offending students not to return to Cedar Creek.”

The Conroys’ son and many of the accused students reportedly now attend the same public high school.

“In essence, this has allowed Cedar Creek to wash its hand of the past problems and ultimately place all of the students back together in the same scholastic environment,” the suit reads.

At least one incident of distribution of child pornography is also alleged. The suit claims two of the defendants’ sons filmed an act of assault and battery against the Conroys’ son, and a month later they showed “photos depicting Paul being sexually assaulted and battered” to the entire room, including the teacher, during a class presentation.

The Conroys allege the defendants named in the suit committed gross negligence, negligent supervision, breach of the tuition contract, civil assault and battery, parental liability and more.

They’re seeking damages to recoup what they’ve paid to the school in tuition, as well as past and future medical expenses including mental health treatment for their son, in addition to several other causes for damages.

Cedar Creek claims the Conroys' lawyer sent the school a letter of demands prior to the suit being filed, but that letter has since been superseded by the lawsuit.

No court dates in the suit had been set as of Friday morning.

“We remain committed to ensuring that Cedar Creek provides a safe, secure environment for all students,” Yepson said in his statement. “Bullying, harassment, intimidation, stalking, and similar actions have no place in our school community and will not be tolerated.”