Officials with TPS sued by Nate Harris over comments regarding the BTW field house name
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
1/31/12 at 8:02 AM
Several key figures in the Athletic Department scandal at Tulsa Public Schools are now facing a civil suit.
Nate Harris, a former basketball coach and teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, filed suit Monday against Stephanie Spring and Jon Wheeler, both of whom recently resigned, plus still-employed Assistant Athletic Director Latricia Pruitt and a host of other defendants.
Harris claims the defendants sent emails that "cast aspersions, untruths and negative comments" about him in an attempt to "discredit and degrade" him while the Tulsa school board was considering naming the new Booker T. Washington High School field house in his honor.
In his petition, Harris claims that Spring, who was then the athletic director, and Wheeler and Pruitt, Spring's assistants, wrote emails from a fictitious individual named "Karen Johnson" that were sent to school board members, local media outlets and others.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Tulsa County District Court, includes allegations of slander, libel, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It seeks punitive damages of an unspecified amount of money in excess of $75,000.
Other listed defendants include Pat Searcy, who, according to Tulsa Public Schools' personnel records, left the district's employment in August 2010.
There were no district personnel records for a defendant named Sam Smith, and the suit also lists three "John Does," or unidentified defendants.
An ad-hoc committee's selection of Harris for the field house name proved to be a controversial choice when it was introduced in February 2011.
The board tabled the matter and sent it back to an expanded ad-hoc committee for additional consideration.
When the committee returned with the same recommendation in November, a divided school board approved the naming of the field house for Harris.
Harris led the Hornets to 10 state titles during his 25 seasons with the team, but his more than three-decade-long coaching career came to an abrupt end in 2006-07.
Then-Superintendent Michael Zolkoski suspended Harris and recommended that the school board fire him. No reason was ever announced because of confidentiality rules governing pending personnel matters. District officials ultimately reached a resignation agreement with Harris, and he retired in 2007.
In an unrelated matter, Spring, Wheeler and Pruitt were all suspended in November when the TPS Campus Police Department named them in a report sent to Tulsa police about a possible violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.
Those concerns arose during preparation for a due-process hearing for Cheryl Murphy, who had been suspended from her duties as Spring's secretary. Spring, Pruitt and Wheeler reportedly disclosed during an interview with school district attorney John Priddy that they had accessed Murphy's personal emails - not her business account - "using a password they had located within Ms. Murphy's vacated office."
That disclosure reportedly caused Priddy to end the interview immediately and alert district administrators.
To date, no charges have been filed in the case. Pruitt was reinstated, but after termination proceedings were initiated against Spring and Wheeler, both resigned.
Calls for comment to attorneys for Harris and Spring were not returned Monday.
Original Print Headline: Figures in TPS flap sued over comments
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Stephanie Spring and Nate Harris: The recently resigned Spring is a defendant in Harris' lawsuit.