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January 12, 2013

Suit tied to school rape changes courts

— A lawsuit filed last year against Tahlequah Public Schools and a former teacher and coach convicted of rape has been moved to federal court.

The petition was originally filed in Cherokee County District Court in December by a former Tahlequah student who said she was sexually assaulted by Bradley Matlock while he was a teacher and coach.

Matlock was convicted of second-degree rape and sentenced a year ago to five years in prison.

The former student, who is now 18, is seeking an unidentified amount in damage from the school district and Matlock, although a tort claim notice served to district officials last April claimed more than $3.7 million was being sought from the district.

The petition states that physical and sexual contact between the student and Matlock occurred on campus and during school hours, but also away from school property while the student was a minor. Under state law, she could not consent to the physical or sexual contact with Matlock, the petition claims.

The students charges that she faced a “hostile and detrimental educational environment” that detracted from her educational experience and that district  employees failed to take appropriate action in a timely manner.

She also said she was discriminated against and harassed because she reported sexual misconduct, and that she was eventually coerced into leaving the school.

The former student said in her petition that she hopes to prevent the “extreme and outrageous conduct of (the school district and Matlock) from ever happening to other students.”

Matlock is in the John Lilley Correctional Center in Boley, and the Department of Corrections has recommended that the balance of his sentence be suspended after he completes a 16-week sex offender treatment program. He is to appear in Cherokee County District Court later this month for a judicial review.

Superintendent Lisa Presley issued a statement in December saying the district condemns Matlock’s acts and denies liability for his conduct.

Josh Newton writes for the Tahlequah Daily Press.

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