Dixon lawsuit in court

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

The one thing both parties can agree on in a lawsuit filed by the parents of Jeffery Dixon against the Picayune School District is he was punched in the chest before a baseball game causing him to lose consciousness.

Lawyers representing Dixon and the Picayune School District were in Circuit Court Wednesday to settle a civil lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.

Daniel Waide, Dixon’s attorney, called several players, coaches and administrative staff to the stand to testify on Wednesday, including J.D. Stockstill, the player who hit Dixon that night, and Cayne Stockstill, head coach for the Picayune Memorial High School baseball team, and Picayune High School Principal Kent Kirkland.

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Waide said in his opening argument that the Picayune School District and Picayune Memorial High School baseball coaches were aware of a tradition of senior players punching freshmen players in the chest before a game. His argument added that the coaches didn’t properly discipline the players involved.

Ed Taylor, the lawyer representing the Picayune School District, argued that baseball coaches and the school district staff were not aware of the tradition. Taylor also argued that since the incident took place during an extracurricular activity, the school district is not liable, a decision that has been previously upheld in the state’s Supreme Court.

In an effort to establish that players had punched others before and that the district had failed to punish the offending players, Waide called former Picayune baseball player Christian Travis to the stand. During his questioning, Waide repeatedly mentioned an earlier incident between Travis and another player, Kurt Smith.

Travis, who is also currently suing the Picayune School District for a separate incident, claimed in his testimony that in January 2011 Smith punched him in the ribs after practice.

Smith was suspended for one game by Head Baseball Coach Cayne Stockstill, but was never punished by the school.

Brent Travis, Christian Travis’ father, said his son didn’t inform him of being punched by another player until Brent Travis prompted him. Brent Travis testified that he contacted baseball coach Richard Imhoff about what his son said.

Brent Travis said Imhoff told him the incident would be handled. When he felt the incident wasn’t being handled properly, Brent Travis said he approached Picayune School District Superintendent Dean Shaw. Shaw told him that Kirkland, the high school principal, handled all disciplinary action for the high school.

Kirkland testified Wednesday afternoon that he became aware of the incident between Christian Travis and Smith after Brent Travis approached him.

As punishment for the incident, Smith was suspended for one game and completed manual labor, Cayne Stockstill said.

Waide called several players to the stand to testify that it was a tradition for a senior baseball player to punch a freshman player in the chest before each game. According to multiple players, including former baseball players Nick Marbel and Marvin Van Buren, after the coaches led the team in prayer and went to speak with game officials, the team would huddle in a circle to get excited for the game and at that time a senior would punch the freshman.

While testimony throughout the day from Marvel, Christian Travis and Van Buren, conflicted on if the freshman volunteered to be punched, it was established that the act was tradition.

Marbel said the act was “not an aggressive punch.”

Kirkland said after Dixon was injured on April 19 before the Senior Night game against Lumberton, he investigated the situation and concluded that Dixon’s injuries were a result of horse playing and not hazing and that he “considers it a ritual before a baseball game.”

After being asked by Waide what he considered hazing, Kirkland responded that hazing “doesn’t have a willing participant.”

Kirkland said during his investigation, he was unable to get a statement from Dixon and that Dixon’s parents never discussed the matter with him.

Both Cayne Stockstill and Imhoff said they didn’t become aware of the tradition of seniors punching freshman until after Dixon was injured.

Cayne Stockstill said based on witness’ statements and the school district’s investigation he “would say it happened more than once” and that he has only heard of it happening on the baseball team.

Waide repeatedly asked each witness throughout the day if the coaches had ever gone over the MHSAA handbook or the school handbook. Each player and all witnesses answered either “no” or “I can’t recall.”

Both Jeffery Dixon’s brother and sister, Justin and Jena, testified about their emotional distress after the April 19 game and their concern for their safety at Picayune schools, which led to their parents transferring them to the Poplarville School District.

Since transferring to Poplarville, the Dixon siblings have transferred again to a district in Alabama.

Travis left Picayune Memorial, transferring to Pearl River Central High school, after the April 19 incident.