Reprinted from Newark Star Ledger:
Beaten teen gets
$16.3M from jury,
and ‘his life back’
By Alexi Friedman
STAR LEDGER STAFF
Anwar Patterson will never walk again. He will never talk again. Left paralyzed and brain damaged from a brutal beating at the hands of a fellow Irvington High School student, Patterson faced an uncertain future, with his mother unable to afford the lifelong medical care he’ll need.
So when a jury in Newark awarded him $16.3 million yesterday after finding the Irvington Board of Education liable for ignoring policies that would have prevented the July 2008 attack, Patter son’s mother was overwhelmed.
“This will give him his life back. This will let him see the world,” Pamela Patterson said outside the courtroom after the two week trial.
But the verdict also affirmed a mother’s belief that while the school district didn’t commit the crime, it shouldered much of the responsibility. The teen who beat Patterson had been suspended the previous day for his role in a fight but, through a series of administrative lapses, was allowed into school the next morning.
The classmate, Danzell Ebron, then 17, quickly sought out 15 year old Patterson, who was not involved in the fight but knew students who were. Patterson was attacked in the ‘ bathroom and beaten into a coma.
He eventually regained consciousness but was left a quadriplegic. Now 19, Patterson attends a special needs school and communicates with the help of a computer.
“I always felt like I gave my son to you to take care of, so you return him back to me,” Pamela Patterson said, referring to the Irvington school board. “And then one morning I woke up and I had this nightmare that he’s coming back to me a different way. He was not protected.”
Ronald Hunt, attorney for the school board, said it would not appeal.
“We weren’t shocked by the verdict,” he said. “It was a tough, case and we made the best argument available.”
Plaintiff’s attorney Jack Wurgaft said there was no question the jury’s decision “was very critical” of the actions high school officials took leading up to the July 15, 2008, attack. Among the most glaring failures, Wurgaft said, was the decision by an acting principal on July 14 to go home without notifying school officials she had suspended Ebron.
When Ebron showed up at school the next morning with his father, an administrator who knew nothing about the suspension instructed Ebron to return to class.
The official, Moses McKenzie, testified at trial that had he received the “drop notice” form detailing Ebron’s suspension, as is required, the teen would not have been allowed into school.
The jury in Superior Court in Newark found Irvington responsible for 80 percent of the damages, or $13 million, and Ebron, now serving a five year prison term, responsible for 20 percent. Wurgaft acknowledged he will not be able to recover that $3 million from Ebron.
Pamela Patterson, who now lives in Morris County, said her family has been in limbo since she filed the lawsuit in 2009, as medical bills mounted and the case dragged on. The trial, set to begin in March, was delayed when a shortage of Essex County judges forced the suspension of all complex civil trials.
The order was eventually lifted and attorneys gave their opening statements on Oct. 1.
Yesterday, Anwar Patter son’s best friend from high school, Raziyah Jeudy, 19, was on hand for the verdict. She recalled Anwar before the attack as someone who “was energetic and loud and loved to play basketball.”
“He was so funny, he was really lovely,” she said. “The difference between now and back then, it’s a big difference.”
Although jurors were shown blown up photos of Patterson taken before and after the attack, they saw him in person just once, when he was wheeled into court for a few minutes at the start of trial. He was not there yesterday, but his mother said he would smile when told the news.
“He may not understand fully, but he’s going to understand that, Anwar, we’re going to have the things you need to have a normal life.”