lawsuit

BHS head football coach Paul Golla is questioned in civil court in regards to the 2010 beating of Mitch Carter during a pep rally at Bakersfield High School. Carter is suing the Kern High School District for negligence as a result of his injuries.

Felix Adamo / The Californian

A Bakersfield High School official tasked with overseeing a pep rally in 2010 that left former student Mitch Carter with multiple injuries testified Wednesday that she was not watching the rally when he was tackled by two football players before a larger dog pile took place several minutes later.

Before a crowd of students rushing out from the stands piled atop Carter, two football players earlier during the Dec. 10 rally tackled him from behind. Activities Director Annaliesa Lovan, who organized the rally, said she didn’t see that first hit and that it’s not her responsibility to oversee the safety of students.

“I don’t believe I’m responsible for the actions of individuals,” Lovan said.

“I’d say that I’d do my best to keep that from happening,” Lovan continued, referring to the dog pile. “But I had no idea those students would jump out of the crowd.”

Carter, who dressed in a chicken costume to mock a rival team’s mascot during a BHS pep rally in 2010, sustained injuries including brain damage, his attorneys said. He’s now suing the Kern High School District for damages as his civil suit plays out this week in Kern County Superior Court.

In a Kern High School District Police incident report the day of the dog pile, Lovan wrote that “two boys from the crowd tackled Mitch [Carter] from behind and the football team proceeded to dog pile.” She testified that she wrote the statement based on what Carter had told her after the brawl. 

In that statement, Lovan highlighted that she specifically told the football team not to tackle Carter. The word “not” is capitalized and underlined twice. 

Bearing down on Lovan Wednesday, Carter’s attorneys played video of the incident, asking throughout the course of the beating whether any adults were present at the rally, whether any adults stopped the dog pile, where she was during the incident and how she could have missed it. 

“Where were you looking?” Attorney Nicholas Rowley asked. 

Lovan said that there were “lots of things going on at the same time” and her attention couldn’t always be directed at the performances during the rally. She said she didn’t see the initial tackle, or the start of the dog pile. She didn’t know Carter was at the bottom of it, she testified, until he got up from underneath it. 

When she did see what was happening, she didn’t rush out to stop the dog pile. No adult did, she testified. Instead, she yelled “stop,” from the DJ booth, where she was stationed during the majority of the rally. Lovan said that she tended to Carter sometime after he’s seen in a video limping to the sidelines and hunching over the bleachers. 

“It was shortly after the video cut away,” Lovan said. 

She remembers that he had a cut on his ear and that his face was “red and flush,” but does not recall seeing his busted lip, or any other injuries he sustained, Lovan testified. She also remembers that the skit, she said, was never part of the rally.

When attorneys questioned her about an itinerary, she said the chicken suit wasn’t part of the plan at all. It was an addition a couple of days before the event, and Carter volunteered to wear the costume, she said. 

The dog pile occurred about five years after a similar incident occurred on campus, when BHS teacher Bob Stone was tackled by the football team while wearing a mascot costume mocking a rival team. He sustained multiple injuries. Lovan, who referred to the Stone incident as “an accident,” wasn’t the activities director at that time but was on the field when it happened.

Despite witnessing that event, Lovan acknowledged, she implemented no policies, procedures or rules that would prevent such an incident from occurring again in the future.

Paul Golla, who was the head football coach at BHS at the time of the 2005 incident that sent Stone to the hospital, testified Wednesday that he didn’t feel it was necessary to tell his players not to attack a mascot in 2010.

“It’s embarrassing that we did something like that,” Golla testified, referring to the most recent incident involving another rival mascot.

Adding to his embarrassment that day in 2010 was the presence of a University of Southern California football scout. Golla had talked up the rally to the recruiter beforehand, noting how “special” those events are, and how his football players and the school exhibited “pride and tradition.” 

Golla and the recruiter left a few minutes before the dog pile occurred, Golla said. 

Golla also testified that none of the players, on the bus ride to the valley championship game that evening, told him they jumped on Carter in an attempt to stand up for Casey Wood, a football player who Carter pushed during a skit at the rally.

Defense attorneys, during opening statements Thursday, said that football players thought of Wood as an “honorary” member of the team, and more of a “little brother” than a player. They colored him as a “special needs” student who the student body rose up to defend after Carter touched him.  

Both Wood and his mother testified that he’s not special needs — he just has a speech impediment. 

During a trial recess Wednesday, one of Carter’s attorneys, Joseph Low, pulled lead defense attorney Michael Kellar aside and asked: are you going to apologize to Wood for calling him special needs?

Kellar’s answer: no. 

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