A local teacher alleging defamation reaped a $6,000 verdict against the parents of a child who claimed physical abuse in the classroom.
The trial of Jerri Sharpton vs. Blanca and Eddie Diaz began Nov. 8 and ended two days later with jurors finding in favor of Sharpton.
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.
According to the charge of the court, the jury found that both Blanca and Eddie defamed Sharpton per se.
Jurors awarded Sharpton $5,000 for her mental anguish and $1,000 for the damage to her reputation.
According to the lawsuit, on Aug. 26, 2010, Sharpton, a teacher with more than 20 years of experience, was teaching a fourth 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 immediately attempted to press criminal charges, the suit alleges.
Court records show that a school investigation ensued and after no "evidence to corroborate Ms. Diaz' story" was found, Sharpton was allowed to return to her job.
"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.
Beaumont Enterprise reporter Amy Moore wrote an article about the incident, which appeared in the paper on Sept. 17, 2010, the suit states.
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."
Beaumont attorney Ryan Gertz represents Sharpton.
Beaumont attorney John Morgan represents the Diazes.
Judge Bob Wortham, 58th District Court, is presiding over the case.
Case No. A188-375