The Kern High School District's board president admitted that Bakersfield High School made missteps in handling a pep rally in 2010 that left former student Mitch Carter with allegedly serious injuries.
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. A jury decided 10-to-2 Monday that the district acted negligently and is determining damages this week.
“The district has said before that mistakes were made,” board President Mike Williams said. “We've always recognized that.”
When asked about questionable defense strategies that KHSD's lawyers deployed throughout the trial, including calling Casey Wood, an honor roll student, “special needs,” Williams pled ignorance.
“We have no say in it. It's an insurance issue,” Williams said, referencing Self-Insured Schools of California, the company the district contracted with in 2010 that would pay out damages. “They make decisions and keep us informed, but they really don't — our board has no say in any of it.”
Wood was the student Carter pushed during a skit that led to the dog pile. Defense attorneys attempted to paint a picture of the student body and football team rising up to defend a special needs student.
Plaintiffs attorneys disproved that, and defense attorney Michael Kellar walked back his comments during closing arguments, telling jurors that he said “special needs,” but what he meant was “special characteristics.”
Carter's lead attorney, Ralph Wegis, took issue with board members not knowing the strategies of the case.
“The leadership can't say they didn't understand. They're collecting the profits,” Wegis said. “What they don't know is only because they don't want to know it. It's a culture of not caring.”
Wegis also addressed a matter involving BHS Football Coach Paul Golla, who Wegis says lied under oath. Golla testified that he wasn't in the gym when the dog pile took place. John Baxter, a top assistant coach for the USC football team, later said that he was sitting next to Golla and watching as the dog pile formed on top of Carter.
Wegis takes that as positive proof of a cover-up and conspiracy, but doesn't foresee anyone prosecuting Golla for it, nor does he see the district taking action against Golla.
“I don't see anything happening to him at all within the institution he's a part of when that's part of paying your dues. You're part of the cover-up. If you were in an organization with integrity, it would be fatal to your future,” Wegis said. “He will be fine with KHSD as long as he continues winning football games. He’s a player on the team.”
District officials didn’t return calls seeking comment on Wegis’ claims.