A year after a Lusher Charter School student surrendered to police following accusations that he had threatened to “shoot up” his campus, his parents have filed a lawsuit in Civil District Court accusing the local school district and a parent of falsely accusing their son and spreading bogus claims.
In the suit, Arthur and Katherine Johnston reject the publicized storyline that their 15-year-old son, Wyatt Johnston, was a violent teenager who constituted a danger to the Lusher community. Instead, they portray him as a picked-on kid with anxiety disorders whose “tormentors” enacted a “protracted campaign” against him in an act of retaliation.
“Wyatt was depicted as an imminent threat, a teenager who would commit a mass shooting, when in fact he was merely a bullied child,” the Johnstons said in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday. “His tormentors had simply sought to turn the tables on him when he reported their harassment.”
Now, the Johnstons are asking for an unspecified amount in damages for defamation and invasion of privacy. The family is also requesting an injunction barring the Orleans Parish School Board and the other parent, Leslie Dianne Christopher, from further publicizing any of the accusations made against their son, saying that doing so amounts to “continued harassment.”
Additionally, the family claims the OPSB has withheld the teen’s academic file despite numerous requests and has asked a judge to order its release. It wasn’t immediately clear who was being barred from seeing the file, or what damage its withholding has supposedly caused.
The school district, Lusher officials and Christopher all did not respond to requests for comment.
The story was first made public in December 2017, when both father and son were arrested four days after threats against Lusher were reported on the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 children and six school staffers dead.
A Lusher Charter School eighth-grader surrendered to New Orleans police Monday after he was accused of threatening to "shoot up" his campus la…
According to the New Orleans Police Department, students at Lusher’s campus on Freret Street had told administrators that Wyatt Johnston had claimed he planned to attack the school.
That was on a Thursday. After a tense weekend during which police said the father refused to surrender his son for booking or questioning, the two turned themselves in that Monday.
Wyatt Johnston was booked on one count of terrorizing. His father was accused of threatening authorities and refusing to cooperate, and of illegally possessing weapons in the presence of drugs after police found more than 10 guns, marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the home.
Ultimately, the teen maintained his claims of innocence but pleaded guilty to a lesser offense of disturbing the peace, a misdemeanor, because he didn’t want to be “defamed in open court,” the filing says. He was put on inactive probation.
The father pleaded guilty in October to resisting an officer, also avoiding jail time.
In the new pleading, the family argues that events relevant to the case began the day before Lusher officials heard about the alleged threats, when Claire Ory, Lusher’s dean of students, called Wyatt’s mother to tell her that a group of students was bullying her son.
Three girls and a transgender male had sent him a series of text messages accusing him of being homophobic and of sexual misconduct after he allegedly used an incorrect name and pronoun for the male student, the family said.
The lawsuit says the group also confronted Johnston on a staircase and “physically intimidated” him after he reported them for harassment.
It was those students who then fabricated a story about Johnston wanting to shoot up the school, the lawsuit alleges.
Wyatt was initially suspended for a single day, with the proviso that a doctor could vouch that he was not a danger to himself or others, according to the filing.
But the Johnstons claim the teen was "harassed" when Lusher administrators “completely reversed course” after a group of parents complained that he was “being dealt with too leniently." The school moved to expel him and report him to the NOPD.
When police were first notified, the Johnstons refused to turn over the teenager — an action police said worsened the family’s legal situation.
However, in the filing, the family said the District Attorney’s Office was willing to show leniency anyway — until Christopher, a former employee of the office, contacted an assistant district attorney and demanded harsher consequences than the ones being offered in a plea deal.
Other damages are sought for physical injuries sustained after Wyatt was attacked while in custody and emotional distress caused by the OPSB and Christopher, the lawsuit says. The parents claim Johnston had trouble finding a new school and was ousted from the Boy Scouts of America after Christopher continued to “spread accusations” even after the teen left Lusher.
“Their conduct as described herein was extreme and outrageous,” the family said.
The case has been assigned to Civil District Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott, but a hearing date has not been set, court officials said Wednesday.