Crime

Former student sues ex-girlfriend’s father, district for attack at KC-area high school

‘This didn’t even have to happen,’ says mother of student attacked at Ruskin High School

Ebony Landis, the mother of Cullen Landis who was attacked while at Ruskin High School, says that this didn't even have to happen.
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Ebony Landis, the mother of Cullen Landis who was attacked while at Ruskin High School, says that this didn't even have to happen.

A former student who was brutally attacked at Ruskin High School by the father of his ex-girlfriend is now suing, saying that the beating caused severe brain injury and that the Hickman Mills school district did not protect him.

When police arrived at the school just after the lunch hour on Sept. 19, 2017, they found Cullen Landis, then 18, unconscious, bleeding from his ear, with severe cuts to his eye and swelling and bruises to his head.

He’d been repeatedly punched and kicked in the head and body by 40-year-old Josiah S. Wright and Wright’s daughter Jonay, 17. She pleaded guilty to domestic assault and, now 19, is serving a seven-year prison sentence. Her father was found guilty of first-degree assault and is in the Jackson County Detention Center awaiting sentencing next month.

Landis, in January, sued the Hickman Mills district, Ruskin High School and several school leaders, saying they failed to keep him safe while at school. And now Landis, 20, is suing Josiah Wright for the attack, which left him hospitalized in critical condition with a possible brain bleed.

“This case is all about keeping students safe while they are at school,” said Mark Schloegel, an attorney for Landis.

The suit, filed last month in Jackson County Circuit Court, claims that the beating caused traumatic brain injury and that Landis suffered psychological, emotional and mental injury.

After months of rehabilitation and learning to walk again, Landis, “has made a fair recovery and is trying to rebuild his life,” said Tom Porto, another attorney representing Landis. His attorneys did not want him or family members to discuss the pending lawsuits.

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Josiah and Jonay Wright Kansas City Police Department

The latest suit says that Wright’s actions were “willful, wanton, reckless and malicious and were outrageous.” It calls Wright’s motives “evil” and “reckless” and asks the court for damages “in excess of $25,000,” to be determined in a jury trial.

Police reports at the time indicated that Landis and Jonay Wright had a violent on-again-off-again relationship. That June, Landis had received a municipal citation for assault when he was accused of throwing her on the ground and punching her in the face and body at school. Court documents say the teens had ended their relationship in March 2017.

That September, Wright visited his daughter at school to get a copy of her class schedule before eating lunch with her, court documents say. The two saw Landis in the student services room and kept walking. But the daughter said she then received a threatening text message from Landis, so she and her father went back to confront him.

According to police reports, Josiah Wright pulled Landis off his chair by his hair, yanked him to the floor and stomped on his head twice. His daughter kicked him in his chest and groin area as well before off-duty offices and school security broke up what Landis’ attorneys have called “a beat down.”

A Hickman Mills spokeswoman said Monday in an email that, “as a matter of standard practice, the district does not comment on matters that are pending litigation. The safety and security of students and staff has been and continues to be a top priority of the District.”

At the time of the incident, school officials said Wright came into the school using the proper procedure. “He checked in, he got his daughter. He didn’t do anything wrong,” said Ruth Terrell, who was district spokeswoman at the time. She said that once guests have checked in and are authorized to be in the school, they are not followed.

The suit argues that because the teens had previously been in a violent altercation, the school should have been aware of the risk.

Instead, the lawsuit claims, the school “allowed an unauthorized parent and convicted felon, Josiah Wright, into the high school knowing that harm was foreseeable.” Attorneys expect the Hickman Mills suit to go before a jury in 2020.

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.
Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.
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