OSD named in “John Doe” lawsuit

A former Walhalla teacher and coach sent to prison for sexually abusing two students is being sued on behalf of one those students, now a young adult. Last June, Richard Trey Gardner III received a suspended criminal court sentence requiring him to serve 20 years. Last week an attorney, representing a Greenville County man, filed suit against Gardner alleging assault/slander/libel. Besides the former teacher and coach, the lawsuit names Oconee School District and South Carolina Department of Education as co-defendants. The plaintiff is listed as John Doe, a pseudonym. It alleges the county and state school departments are vicariously liable for the abuse that began when the plaintiff was a Walhalla Middle School 7th grader and continued through his Walhalla High School years. The lawsuit seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages. Among its other allegations is the contention that Gardner began grooming his victim for sexual abuse as early as the sixth grade and used his position to isolate the boy after wrestling and football practices. As for Oconee School District, the suit alleges that, after becoming aware that Gardner was spending unusual time with the plaintiff, it neither investigated nor intervened—except to prohibit Gardner from allowing the boy to change clothes in the teacher’s class and from allowing the boy to be in the teacher and coach’s car on school property. The lawsuit alleges that Gardner got around that by directing the boy to walk from school to a local convenience store, where he picked him up and drove him home and the abused continued. Dr. Michael Thorsland, acting superintendent, said this afternoon, ““We do not wish to comment at the current time. “