Suit claims civil rights violation

A civil lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court Oct. 16 against David Lawrence, a former coach and teacher at Goddard High School, the Roswell School Board and the Roswell Independent School District. The suit stems from criminal charges filed against Lawrence of criminal sexual contact of a minor, charges of which he was acquitted.


The complaint filed by Carolyn M. “Cammie” Nichols and Brendan K. Eagan of the Rothstein Law Firm states that Lawrence and the RISD violated the plaintiff’s 14th Amendment rights. The 14th Amendment was designed to protect an individual’s civil rights and prohibits any state or government entity from denying any person within its jurisdiction equal protection under the law.


The complaint alleges that the “Defendant RISD and Goddard High School have tolerated and/or encouraged an ongoing, widespread and pervasive culture of inappropriate sexual behavior.”


In terms of Lawrence, it reports: “… Defendant Lawrence had made sexual advances, engaged in inappropriate conduct, and/or had inappropriate romantic relationships with other minor female students and Goddard High School.”


The complaint also states the “RISD knew, should have known or had reason to believe that … Lawrence engaged in inappropriate behaviors with female students …”


Case documents list a number of times when separate teachers and coaches noted or observed inappropriate behavior, but did not report it.


Therefore, according to the complaint, it was not until April 2011 when one Goddard teacher reported an incident between Lawrence and a student that allegations of misconduct became a part of the school record.


The alleged victim initially denied the interaction, and Lawrence reportedly told the student, “she did the right thing because he could lose his job, wife and career, and she … could lose her reputation if people found out about their romantic involvement. …”


It was not until a Berrendo Middle School principal reported the inappropriate behavior to the Roswell Police Department that an in-depth investigation was conducted.


The complaint filed with the U.S. District Court also notes the discrepancies between the testimony of Kelci Gardner, a witness in the criminal case against Lawrence, in Magistrate Court and her testimony in District Court. Keith Gardner, father of Kelci, “expressed concerns about his daughter’s testimony at the preliminary hearing.”


During the criminal case, Kelci had reported seeing texts from Lawrence to the student in the Magistrate hearing, but denied seeing them and denied discussing them during a Feb. 4 interview with the police.


Debra Hutchins, assistant district attorney, read excerpts of Kelci’s testimony from the previous court hearing that contradicted her statements in District Court, and the witness said she did not remember having said them.


The court document further alleges a series of retaliatory measures taken by the school against the student through a contract she had to sign, which was presented to no one else, to being kicked off the volleyball team and losing potential scholarships.


The plaintiff’s attorney commended her for her bravery. “She feels strongly about David Lawrence not having access to other young people,” said Nichols.


Nichols said she would like to speak with other victims. “There’s so many other people who have had similar experiences. I know there are people out there. We need people to come forward and testify.”


Lawrence is still under investigation by New Mexico’s Public Education Department. To date, the only witness called to testify in the PED case is Kelci Gardner. Detective Kim Northcutt, who investigated the criminal charges, said he had been told by PED that his testimony would not be necessary.


Lawrence is currently teaching a class at Job Corps. When the Department of Labor was contacted, they were unwilling to comment about the appropriateness of Lawrence interacting with students before the PED investigation is complete.


Lawrence’s attorney, Doug Jones Witt, has asked for a continuance of the PED case until Dec. 4. Lawrence has declined to speak with the Record regarding the civil case, but KRQE-TV reported he said he believed the motivation for the civil case was monetary.

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