BISD teacher's defamation suit against student's parents goes to trial

David Yates Nov. 8, 2011, 4:33am


Claiming unfounded media attention sullied her reputation, a local teacher filed suit against the parents of a child who alleged physical abuse in the classroom.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, jury selection began in the trial of Jerri Sharpton vs. Blanca and Eddie Diaz.

Sharpton filed a defamation suit against the Diazes last September, alleging the couple's decision to take their child's story of physical abuse to the media ruined her credibility in the community.

Court records show that on Aug. 26, 2010, Sharpton, a teacher with more than 20 years of experience, was teaching a forth grade class at Sallie Curtis Elementary in Beaumont.

To prevent cheating among her students, Sharpton asked several students to distribute large cardboard dividers. According to the complaint, one student, Michelle Diaz, did not follow instructions and picked up the divider with two sharpened pencils in her hand.

"When Ms. Sharpton noticed that Ms. Diaz had the pencils and the dividers very close to another child's face, she took the dividers from Ms. Diaz and told her to sit down," the suit states.

"Because Ms. Sharpton had the dividers in her hands, she was physically unable to touch Ms. Diaz in any way. Despite this, Ms. Diaz informed her parents that Ms. Sharpton had yelled at her, assaulted her and dragged her across the classroom by her arm."

Rather than follow Beaumont Independent School District protocol, the Diazes attempted to press criminal charges, the suit alleges.

A school investigation ensued and after no "evidence to corroborate Ms. Diaz' story" was found, Sharpton was allowed to return to her job, the suit states.

"Instead of concluding that their daughter had made a mistake or perhaps stretched the truth – or even outright lied – the Diaz' decided to take the unsubstantiated story to the media, parents and other teachers," the suit states.

The suit states Beaumont Enterprise reporter Amy Moore wrote an article about the incident, which appeared in the paper on Sept. 17, 2010.

Although the article did not use Sharpton's name, she alleges in her suit that "word spread quickly" and that the identity of the teacher had "become obvious to everyone in the Sallie Curtis Community."

"Subsequent to the publication of the article, Ms. Sharpton has been the target of unfounded allegations by classmates of Michelle Diaz," the suit states. "It is so obvious that her reputation has been damaged that fourth grade students are now using it as a reason to get out of Ms. Sharpton's class."

Court records show the Diazes filed an answer and counterclaim on Sept. 28, 2010.

In their answer, the couple asserts a general denial and claim that Sharpton's suit is frivolous.

"Defendants/counter-plaintiffs sue for recovery of all attorneys' fees, costs and expenses, because this lawsuit is legally frivolous and has no basis in either law or fact since the speech and conduct at issue are clearly protected and privileged by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and under the Texas Constitution," the counterclaim states, adding that they are also entitled to recover mental anguish damages caused by the frivolous lawsuit.

Sharpton is suing for the financial damage caused to her reputation and her mental anguish.

Beaumont attorney Ryan Gertz represents her.

Beaumont attorney John Morgan represents the Diazes.

Judge Bob Wortham, 58th District Court, is presiding over the case.

Case No. A188-375

More News