HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – Another lawsuit has been filed in the Mark William Ackett “video voyeur” scandal that has rocked Bloomingdale High School in Valrico for the past year. The parent of a 15-year-old daughter who was traumatized by video sex taping that recorded her either partially or fully unclothed on more than one occasion filed the suit.
As The Free Press previously reported on July 29, Ackett, a fashion design teacher and girls’ track coach unlawfully videotaped minor-aged students and one adult when he placed visual recording devices in the fashion design class’s changing rooms. 70 victims have been counted from recordings beginning in September 2017 that stretched for an entire year.
Grayson Kamm, Chief Communications Officer for the State Attorney’s office indicated, “455 illegal acts have been verified with charges of ‘Video Voyeurism,’ ‘Possession of Child Pornography’ and ‘Use of a Minor in Harmful Materials.’” Some recordings exposed the victims’ breasts and buttocks.
Ackett bailed out of jail on what started as a $7,500 bail and skyrocketed to $2 Million.
On October 6, 2020, victim and Plaintiff Destiny Thornton who filed a lawsuit earlier this year, requested that the County Clerk’s Office issue a “default” against Ackett because he has not responded to her lawsuit with a defense. This could mean she will be granted what she has demanded because he has not argued reasons why she shouldn’t be compensated. Ackett’s reasons for defaulting are unknown.
However, there is a huge legal wrench in both cases where neither Ackett nor the School Board may owe anything to the victims. Ackett’s illicit activity may have occurred for one full year under the School Board’s nose, but Ackett was never in physical contact with his victims. Therein lies the problem.
In the School Board’s Motion to Dismiss in Thornton’s case, the attorney contends the Florida Impact Rule prohibits financial compensation in cases such as this, where a crime has involved no physical touching or physical injury. That’s because it’s hard to establish a dollar amount on spiritual damage caused by a non-physical crime. However, Thornton’s case is more complex because her lawsuit lists hospitalization, disfigurement, permanent bodily injury, and costs for nursing and medical care treatments due to Ackett’s alleged crimes, not because of a physical impact involved in his crimes. Historical arguments in Florida’s courts regarding the Impact Rule are very lengthy and sticky, so it seems the School Board may have to sit on the sidelines while judges debate and legislators ponder. There has been some movement to loosen the noose of the Impact Rule, but it’s still a snarl in legal cases. One can only guess why Thornton has physical harm after the crime.
The School Board also claims a second line of defense: His actions were “outside of the course and scope of his employment as a School Board employee,” so they argue they are not liable. It partly addresses employers’ struggles to control bad behavior in the workplace.
If the School Board loses any Ackett-related cases, they may not be insured to cover the expenses. Providing general legal knowledge, Ralph the Lawyer, a personal injury attorney, said that, “Many insurance policies don’t provide coverage for sexual assault, including negligent hiring, training, retention, and supervision claims that stem from sexual assault claims.” These are exactly the negligence claims that both lawsuits present against the School Board.
Attorney for the School Board in this phase is Debra M. Metzler of Weekley, Schulte, Valdes, Murman, Tonelli of Tampa. The Plaintiff’s attorney is Sanga Turnball of The Turnbull Law Firm, Lakeland.