A recent high school graduate says her school principals created a meme involving an image of her nude breast and shared it with faculty. Now she’s filed a lawsuit against them in Delaware.
Aniya Harmon, 18, was involved in a May 17 altercation at Sussex Central High School when her breast became exposed after a staff member pulled her back from a verbal dispute, causing her shirt to come down, according to the lawsuit.
The incident was captured on surveillance footage, which was reviewed by high school Principal Bradley Layfield and Assistant Principal Matthew Jones, a complaint filed Sept 11 says.
Layfield and Jones shared this video showing Harmon’s exposed breast with other vice principals, school administrators and teachers and made a meme out of it, according to the complaint, which says they’re now on administrative leave for sharing the video.
Specifically, Layfield and Jones are accused of taking a still shot from the surveillance footage, in which Harmon’s nude breast is seen, and “replacing (her) face with that of iconic singer, Janet Jackson,” the complaint says. Jackson’s breast was exposed on live TV during a “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
Now Harmon is suing Layfield, Jones, Sussex Central High School and the Indian River School District on several causes of action, including invasion of privacy, the complaint shows.
“What happened to Aniya Harmon is outrageous and we will ensure that those responsible for violating her privacy are held accountable,” Emeka Igwe, one of the attorneys representing Harmon, of the Igwe Firm, said in a statement.
“It is reprehensible to think that those we entrust to protect our students would share something so intimate, particularly in a joking manner.”
The Indian River School District declined to comment on the pending litigation on Sept 14.
Attorney Thomas Neuberger, who’s representing Layfield, denied the accusations made against his client, who he said is suspended with pay.
“My client had no part in creating or circulating any (meme) that day,” Neuberger told McClatchy News on Sept 14. “For now, the lawsuit appears to be misdirected at my client and an exaggeration of alleged injuries, perhaps for financial reasons.”
McClatchy News also contacted Jones for comment on Sept 14 and didn’t receive an immediate response.
Law enforcement investigation
A Delaware State Police investigation is underway in connection with the incident, the Delaware News Journal reported.
In a statement to McClatchy News on Sept 14, Delaware State Police’s public information director India Sturgis confirmed authorities are “currently investigating an incident that took place at Sussex Central High School in May”.
Sturgis declined to comment further.
Delaware’s Department of Justice formally made Harmon aware of the meme of her during a meeting last week, Ryan Julison, a spokesman for Harmon’s attorneys, told McClatchy News in a statement on Sept 14.
McClatchy News contacted the state Department of Justice for comment on Sept 14 and didn’t receive an immediate response.
Harmon and her family want criminal charges to come out of the case, Igwe told McClatchy News.
Neuberger said the school has yet to civilly investigate the accusations made against Layfield – which he described as “vicious” – because everyone is “waiting for the state police and the attorney general’s office to act.”
The incident captured on school surveillance footage
On the morning of May 17, Harmon was walking to class when she saw two students, a male and a female, arguing and told the female student to “quiet down”, the complaint says.
This is when the “female student screamed obscenities at (Harmon) and bucked at her threateningly” before an employee held Harmon back – resulting in her shirt coming down, according to the complaint.
Harmon then had to fill out an incident report in the school’s administrative office and was advised by Layfield to “leave school for a few days”, the complaint says. Then, Harmon found out the principals shared the surveillance footage with other staff and made a meme of her, according to the complaint.
Sharing the footage was done “to cause harm and embarrassment to (Harmon)”, the complaint says.
In an Aug 21 news release issued by Neuberger, Layfield said there have been “countless fights where surveillance camera footage is shared with staff” as a safety measure and to identify those involved.
While speaking with McClatchy News, Neuberger accused Harmon of being the “instigator” of the school altercation that morning and said it was a fight that a state trooper employed as a school resource officer helped break up.
He also said the fight was racially motivated, which Harmon’s attorneys deny.
“He’s the one that injected race into the equation,” Igwe told the Delaware News Journal.
With her lawsuit, Harmon seeks to recover a judgment against the defendants and to recover an unspecified amount of damages awarded by a jury.
In speaking with the Delaware News Journal about the situation, Harmon’s mother, Latosha White, told the outlet “it’s been hell”. – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service