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Two Newton residents sue Citadel

COVINGTON -- Two Newton County residents are suing The Citadel for unrelated matters.

Former Citadel cadet James Tyler Phillips filed a civil suit on Dec. 8 alleging he was assaulted and his life threatened by upperclassmen during his freshman year at the school.

Phillips, an Eagle Scout and honor student, who has received national awards for his service in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet program, attended the Citadel from August 2009 to May 2010 on a Naval scholarship.

Phillips was unavailable for an interview, but documents sent to school administrators from him and his parents detail physical and verbal abuse that occurred after he refused to haze another cadet.

Phillips was allegedly hit with a broomstick and rifle butt, kicked in the back and ordered to jump from the fourth floor of his barracks. He was also ordered to light himself on fire and threatened with death. He also claims his belongings were stolen or destroyed and his computer hacked into and his homework and class notes destroyed.

Phillips' parents, Donna and Tony, say they were largely ignored by school administrators.

"We were blessed with an awesome son and because he chose not to follow orders to haze another cadet, this is what happened to him," Donna Phillips said.

The lawsuit filed by Phillips states that, "The Citadel was aware of or should have been aware of students and groups of students who were not following the rules and policies set out by The Citadel. The Citadel failed to provide a meaningful outlet for students who were affected and therefore, perpetuated the problem."

Phillips is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.

Dawes Cooke Jr., attorney for The Citadel, said Phillips' allegations were taken seriously and those involved were disciplined in the form of "tours," which involve marching while carrying a rifle for an hour in their spare time. Cooke said they were disciplined with between 80 and 120 tours, given demerits and some were transferred from their companies.

Cooke said Phillips did not initially report physical abuse other than having the tag ripped from his shirt.

"He never complained of there being physical assault. Even so, he was still advised of his ability to report to the police if he thought a crime was committed and he declined to do that," Cooke said.

Cooke said all students are required to sign a form during enrollment notifying them that hazing is against the rules. Cooke said hazing is an expulsion offense, but that the students were not expelled because there was no physical touching initially reported and the alleged offenders were freshmen, despite the Phillips' claims that the students were upperclassmen.

Oxford resident Randy Upton also recently filed suit against the Citadel following an incident last fall in which a cadet there allegedly posted his teenage daughter's name and cell phone number to a pornographic website.

Upton claims The Citadel did not monitor and filter cadets' computer usage in keeping with its policies.

The cadet, Andrew Steven Smith, is also from Newton County and went to school with Upton's daughter.

Upton's daughter was alerted when she received a text from a 55-year-old man in Iowa, who said he got her information from the website.

Upton previously told the Citizen that he was outraged to learn the cadet's actions were not illegal. He is working with State Rep. Pam Dickerson, D-Conyers, to make it a crime to post a minor's information on a pornographic website.

Upton said he filed suit because he has no other legal recourse, he wants to protect his daughter's reputation and to change the culture of The Citadel, where he said "there is a history of ignoring problems."

"This is an environment where this type of behavior is accepted, it's conditioned and its tolerated," he said.

Upton is also seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.

Cooke said The Citadel is not responsible for monitoring and filtering cadet use of the Internet, though misuse of the Internet could be punished. He said he could not reveal if any punishment was handed down to Smith but said that he is no longer a student there.

"The Citadel would take conduct like that very seriously," he said, adding that unlike most colleges, The Citadel disciplines students for conduct both on and off campus.