A Georgia couple is suing Camden Military Academy (CMA), Headmaster Col. Eric Boland and four other CMA employees, claiming they allowed cadets to, among other allegations, beat, sodomize and rape their 13-year-old son when he attended the school between August 2008 and January 2009.
The couple said CMA officials ignored warning signs or allowed the incidents to take place with their knowledge. In at least one case, they alleged that an administrator assaulted their son.
Shon and Laura Cameron, of Woodstock, Ga., filed a lawsuit Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. The lawsuit names CMA; Boland; CMA Commandant C.H. Armstrong; CMA Sgt. Major Vertis Wilder; Denise Miles, a CMA nurse; and former CMA wrestling coach John Richard, who held the rank of captain during the time the Camerons’ son attended the school.
Locally, the Camerons have hired William Tetterton as one of their four attorneys. The others are R. Keegan Federal Jr. of the Atlanta, Ga., firm of Federal & Hasson LLP; and Marguerite S. Willis and Victoria Eslinger of Nexsen Pruet LLC.
CMA is represented by Ronald B. Diegel of Murphy & Grantland P.A in Columbia.
The Camerons allege not only that their son -- now 16 and referred to in the lawsuit as “JBC” -- was verbally, physically and sexually abused, but that CMA misrepresented the school’s culture and stance on hazing. The lawsuit also alleges that CMA officials lied about what was happening to their son and how he was adjusting to life at the school.
In the lawsuit, the Camerons said their son was attending public school in Georgia in 2008 when he visited a school fair and decided to investigate boarding schools offering a structured learning environment. They said their son surfed the Internet, and discovered CMA; his grandfather -- whom they described as “career military” -- reviewed the website and requested the school’s information packet.
When the packet arrived, the family reviewed the information. The Camerons said their son became excited about CMA and its “promises of honor, integrity and development of the ‘whole man,’” according to the lawsuit. The Camerons attended a CMA open house and asked whether the school admitted “bad boys, for example, boys that courts had ordered or referred to the military school.” CMA responded “no,” they said. They asked whether younger, smaller boys, such as their son, would get enough to eat if they dined with older, bigger boys. CMA said “yes,” the Camerons allege.
“It never occurred to the Camerons to ask whether their son would be beaten, sodomized or raped at CMA, nor would such an inquiry would have been reasonable under the circumstances,” the lawsuit states.
The Camerons enrolled JBC at CMA in August 2008.
The couple claims that in just four days, an older cadet verbally assaulted their son in his room. He was terrified, they said, and “snuck off” to ask a secretary to call his mother. Although he was crying, the secretary allegedly refused, put him in an isolation room and called Wilder. Wilder escorted JBC back to the barracks.
“Within hours, a gang of cadets accosted JBC in the latrine,” the lawsuit alleges. “They pushed him into a corner, beat him and then ‘informed’ him that ‘snitches get stitches’ at CMA.”
After that, the Camerons allege, the physical abuse was continuous. They said cadets once placed a plastic bag over their son’s head, trying to suffocate him.
“And, most horribly, two CMA cadets sodomized him and one CMA cadet brutally raped him.”
The Camerons do not name the cadets as defendants, but did list them by last name in the filing
JBC’s parents allege that he visited the infirmary a total of 19 times during the six months he attended CMA. On one occasion, they allege, he suffered a severely bruised tailbone from being repeatedly “kneed.” When Laura Cameron called about the injury, she was allegedly assured “everything was fine” and that her son was adjusting “well.” At one point, it was recommended the Camerons stop speaking to their son, suggesting he was merely “homesick.”
The Camerons said their son tried to run away from CMA only to be found in an “unapproved” area. Wilder allegedly flattened his hand like a spear tip and repeatedly “jabbed” JBC’s sternum between the ribs and then grabbed him and threw him out of the office.
After that ordeal, JBC phoned his parents, who were advised that they should take what their son said “with a grain of salt” because he would “say anything to get home.” The Camerons said they were also told by CMA officials that their son was “settling in” and “doing well.”
“These statements were false and intended to deceive the Camerons into believing JBC was safe at CMA,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that they received other false assurances from other CMA officials.
When Laura Cameron drove her son back to school after Christmas break, she said she heard thuds and crashes from next door in the barracks. Other cadets told her it was one cadet beating another, she said. She alleges that she went out into the hall and saw a CMA official watching a “bigger” cadet repeatedly hitting “the smaller boy.” The CMA official allegedly told her that the cadets “play this way” and shut the door.
About a week later, the Camerons said, their son called saying he wanted to leave CMA. They drove the 300 miles to get him. The Camerons said in the lawsuit that once they drove out of South Carolina, their son told them about the extent of the abuse he suffered. He also said he was worried about younger cadets who would “wake up and go to bed hungry.”
Later in the lawsuit, the Camerons allege their own son was malnourished because CMA officials did not make sure he had enough to eat.
On the day JBC left CMA, a former roommate texted him: “I am so sad you are gone I could cry -- but am so glad you are out of here.”
They said CMA officials said the campus was not a “reform school” and did not accept any of “those students.” They said CMA officials claimed their students were “children of above average intelligence who just needed extra direction to stay focused on their academics.”
The Camerons claim those statements are “false, misleading and deceptive.” They also said there was an “obvious indifference” to their son’s injuries in all of these cases.
Laura Cameron claims she actually heard a cadet striking her son during one telephone conversation. The couple also alleged that their son was often kicked in the testicles.
In another allegation, the Camerons claimed a cadet extorted $100 from their son as protection only to rape and sodomize him. The Camerons said in the lawsuit that they believe that cadet was expelled not because of what happened to their son, but because he struck a CMA “officer.”
The Camerons claim CMA administrators either knew the abuse was taking place and allowed it to happen, or ignored the signs of that abuse.
Finally, in regard to the allegations, the Camerons said while withdrawing their son from CMA, they asked for a tuition refund. CMA refused and the Camerons sued. It was while preparing for depositions for that case that JBC told his parents about the sexual assaults. During his deposition, he testified he had been sexually assaulted, raped and beaten during his enrollment. The tuition suit was dismissed in April 2011 under Rule 41(a), which allows plaintiffs -- in this case the Camerons -- to withdraw suits without prejudice, meaning it could be brought back to court.
The Camerons allege in the suit that their son has suffered physically and psychologically, having entered a mental health counseling program not long after leaving CMA. They said he continues to see a therapist and physician for his injuries. They also allege that CMA officials never reported the abuse of their child to the authorities such as the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office.
The Camerons are not seeking a specific amount of damages. Instead, they are seeking a judgment for “all actual, consequential and punitive damages, all in an amount to be more specifically proven at trial, as well as treble damages, costs of this action and attorneys fees … and for such other and further relief as this Honorable Court may deem just and proper.”
Tetterton was unavailable for comment. Federal, the Georgia attorney representing the Camerons, would not comment directly on the case. However he did speak to the level of detail in the Camerons’ lawsuit.
“We felt like it was important to spell out the details in the complaint so there would be no question of our seriousness of purpose in pursing this action,” Federal said. “It’s a tragic situation.”
Boland had no comment except to confirm an average student body of 300. He said he did not know what percentage of the students came from out of state but that “many more” come from within South Carolina. He deferred other questions to Diegel, who did not return a message seeking comment by deadline.