Fruitland faces second federal lawsuit over handling of sexual misconduct allegations

The Fruitland School District is facing a civil lawsuit alleging it failed to prevent or address the sexual abuse of a minor student by a former assistant track coach.

Kelly Rhinehart was indicted by a grand jury on five charges of rape and sexual battery of a minor in 2019, when he was an assistant track coach at Fruitland High School. Those charges were dismissed earlier this year after prosecutors from the Attorney General’s office said they needed more time to investigate the case, Ruth Brown of the Idaho Statesman reported. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors could still refile charges.

In a complaint filed in federal court on Oct. 2, lawyers Sam Johnson and Shawnee Perdue allege the Fruitland School District knew that Rhinehart had been accused of “inappropriate relationships with vulnerable populations” prior to his coaching at Fruitland, and that district staff failed to investigate his “obvious inappropriate conduct” toward a minor on the track team.

The lawsuit says that Rhinehart was allowed to practice alone with the student after hours, that he was publicly flirtatious with the girl and that his conduct was “observable by School coaches staff and personnel.” The lawsuit alleges the district did not properly train employees and coaches on how to identify and report predatory behavior. Rhinehart sexually abused the girl at least four times, lawyers say.

“The district allowed Rhinehart to abuse his influence as a track coach to sexually abuse Plaintiff, during and after track practice and on the School premises,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint alleges Fruitland violated the girl’s civil rights under the 14th and 8th amendments of the constitution and was “deliberately indifferent to a culture of sexual hostility by its staff members toward students,” in violation of Title IX, which protects students and staff from gender discrimination and harassment.

This is the second federal lawsuit that Johnson and Perdue of Johnson & Monteleone have filed against Fruitland following high-profile cases of sexual abuse and harassment.

Former Fruitland High principal and basketball coach Mike Fitch was accused of sexual battery against an employee but found not guilty at trial last year. That employee brought a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against the district, represented by Johnson & Monteleone.  That lawsuit also alleges the district violated Title IX and the employees civil rights and is currently underway within the federal court system.

Fruitland Superintendent Lyle Bayley did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the complaint filed Friday. Bayley was not superintendent at the time of the incidents referenced in the lawsuits. He took over for Teresa Fabricius who retired this summer after serving as superintendent since 2012.

Scott Graf, spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General’s office, said the office’s case against Rhinehart is still “pending.” He declined to offer further comment on whether prosecutors intend to refile criminal charges.

Sami Edge

About Sami Edge

Reporter Sami Edge, a University of Oregon graduate, joined Idaho Education News in 2019. She is a 2019 Education Writers Association fellow reporting on Latino student outcomes in Idaho. She also is a 2019 American Press Institute fellow. She can be reached at [email protected].

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