Pennsylvania Record

Friday, December 13, 2019

Lawsuit filed over melee after Truman-Bensalem basketball game; Former student blames school district for failing to protect her

Federal Court

By John Breslin | Jul 17, 2019

The December 2016 fight |

PHILADELPHIA – A Bensalem High School student recently filed a lawsuit claiming Harry S. Truman High School in Levitttown and Bristol Township School District failed to take measures to protect her following a basketball game and post-game melee.

Karagan Kelly, who graduated from Bensalem High School in June, filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The suit accuses Truman High, the school district and an unnamed male of negligence in the January 2018 incident and failing to take measures to protect students despite a similar incident in December 2016. The lawsuit also names Kelly's mother, Christine Johnson, as a plaintiff.

In a statement to the Pennsylvania Record, Leza Raffel, communications coordinator for the school district, said, "It is against Bristol Township School District's policy to comment on litigation involving students or staff."

The principal of Truman High School did not respond to requests for comment. An attorney for the plaintiffs also did not reply to requests for comment.

The lawsuit claims that following the January 2018 game, students from both schools, including Kelly and her friends, were directed to move toward the same exit at the same time despite the fact there are multiple ways to leave the Truman High venue.

Several hundred students "waited in the relatively small, mostly enclosed, designated meeting spot to meet up with their friends to drive home," the lawsuit said.

In the lawsuit, Kelly alleges she was looking at her cellphone while waiting and was suddenly trapped against a wall because there was a "mob of students fighting in the area."

The suit claims Kelly was punched and kicked during the brawl, knocked into the wall and had one of her fingernails ripped off, resulting in her suffering pain, a concussion, headaches and eye and speech problems as well as mental anguish, anxiety and depression. 

Kelly and her mother are suing for violations of the 14th Amendment with claims that the defendants created a danger to her. Kelly also claims the school and the district were negligent, while her unknown alleged assailant is accused of assault and battery.

In her complaint, Kelly cites a previous incident at Truman High that followed a basketball game in December 2016.

The lawsuit said the two schools have a rivalry "known to result in athletic and non-athletic students to cause threats of violence, actual violence, injuries, and insults against one another."

According to the complaint, the 2016 melee involved players and students from the stands fighting each other. At least one student was injured, police were involved, video was published on the internet and it was reported in a newspaper.

Bensalem High took measures to ensure a similar incident would not take place at its school, the suit said, but Truman High and Bristol Township "took improper measures to ensure similar incidents would not happen in the future."

In a statement at the time of December 2016 incident, Bensalem Township School District Superintendent Dr. Samuel Lee said, "This unfortunate incident remains under investigation. The safety and security of its student athletes is the primary concern of the Bensalem Township School District."

Harry S. Truman High School Principal Lyndell Davis, in his statement at the time, said: "Last night, our boys basketball team played a great four quarters of basketball. Throughout the game they displayed great sportsmanship and competitiveness. They were able to edge a talented Bensalem team by 1 point on a last second shot. 

"Unfortunately that was all marred by the actions of a few, if not all that were not Truman students. There were many friends and family members on the floor at the end of the game celebrating an exciting win, as in most close games. During the end of game handshakes, punches were thrown from many directions. I am pleased to say that those punches were not coming from members of our basketball team. Our team was able to clear the floor at the direction of coaches and staff. The reports from the paper insinuate that it was Truman students that started and participated in this fight. As previously stated, most involved were not students of Truman."

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