A former McKinley High School student who spent five days in the hospital in 2014 after he was ordered to perform 200 push-ups for being late to marching band practice testified Tuesday his swollen arms resembled those of the cartoon character Popeye and said his urine turned "pitch-black."
Tristen Rushing, 20, is suing the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, McKinley and former McKinley volunteer assistant band director Jason Jones for damages.
Rushing said he was taken to the emergency room at Baton Rouge General Medical Center several days after performing the push-ups and was diagnosed with a condition that results in rapid destruction of muscle tissue, which also affected his kidneys.
Rushing told an East Baton Rouge Parish jury that Jones ordered him to do 200 push-ups after showing up several minutes late to band practice Oct. 28, 2014.
"He was angry," Rushing said while being questioned by his attorney, Sean Fagan.
Jones testified no physical exam was required at that time to join the marching band and also said he did not know the School Board rules in terms of acceptable punishment for students.
"I didn't think push-ups would be out of bounds," Jones said, adding that he was told after the incident involving Rushing that push-ups were off-limits.
Jones said he used push-ups as "a scare tactic to get their attention" but stressed he absolutely was not trying to inflict pain on the students.
Rushing did not return to the marching band after the incident, saying he felt ostracized at McKinley afterward. Some fellow students and band members were blaming him for causing trouble for Jones and band director Frank Williams, he said.
Rushing said Williams was present when he performed his push-ups in front of his fellow band members.
Williams testified he and Jones jointly decided that push-ups would be an appropriate way to address tardy band members, but Williams said he didn't look at push-ups as inflicting pain.
"It was a way to give them a consequence," he said.
Williams, who said he did not witness Rushing performing push-ups, testified that 200 push-ups was an excessive amount.
"I wouldn't have given that order. That's a lot of push-ups. That's not a number I would assign," he said. "Knowing what's going on now, I wouldn't think that's a safe number."
Dr. Robert Chasuk treated Rushing at the hospital and testified that the muscle damage Rushing suffered released an "unheard of level" of muscle enzyme into his system.
"It was a threat to his kidneys" and, if left untreated, could have resulted in death, Chasuk said.
Carla Courtney, who represents the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and McKinley, told the jury that what happened to Rushing after the push-ups could not have been foreseen.
Jones' attorney, Anderson Dotson III, said Jones did not single Rushing out but ordered four band members who came late to that practice without a note to perform push-ups. The push-ups were ordered for the "shock factor," he added.
"There was no intention to hurt these kids," Dotson said.
The trial will resume Wednesday in state District Judge William Morvant's courtroom.