Bullpen bullying nearly kills 12-year-old

1:31 PM, Nov 26, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- An Atlanta family is fighting back over alleged bullying that they say nearly killed their son.

"Jeffrey's nose was broken in three places, deviated septum, 95% of his sinuses crushed and caved in, he was left with 5% breathing capacity," said the boy's father, Jeff Del Bagno, as he held up pictures taken of Jeffrey after the surgery. 

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According to a doctor's report, 12-year-old Jeffrey Del Bagno was beaten "within millimeters" of his life.

"The kids had a colloquial name for it, called 'bull-penning'. One guy comes up to you, says something like 'nice tie' and without thinking, just punch you in the face, while the kid behind you would push you into that punch," Del Bagno explained. 

The Del Bagno's have filed a lawsuit against Atlanta Public Schools and school administrators, claiming the attack could have been prevented.

"He was bullied virtually every day he was at Inman, threatened," Del Bagno said.  

Jeffrey played football with the Inman Middle School football team and, despite his large stature, his Dad says he was a gentle giant who lived in fear at school.

The lawsuit references five separate emails to school officials. One email written on September 2, 2011, warned Inman Middle School administrators about "student bullying and harassment" against Jeffrey. 

The alleged "bull-penning" incident happened a year later, when Jeffrey entered 7th grade.  The lawsuit claims that on September 7th, 2012 he was in the school gym with known instigators, waiting for football gear to be handed out. His parents say the coaches were in the locker room and the boys were left unsupervised.

While Atlanta Public Schools is not commenting because of pending litigation, we have obtained secret recordings of school officials talking about the incident. 

"To my understanding this has been building up. We all agree on that," said Inman Middle School assistant principal Michael Ashley at a meeting on October 30, 2012, three weeks after the attack.

Mr. Del Bagno secretly recorded the meeting over frustrations about not getting access to security camera footage from the school. 

Assistant principal Ashley saw it. 

"I looked at it. Laboriously, I looked at it, every angle up down. I didn't even get a reaction," he said,  He didn't see any commotion but the Del Bagnos are angry they never got to see it.

The day after the incident, Del Bagno says he fired off an email asking for surveillance camera video to be preserved and says he repeatedly asked to see it. And later, a response to an open records request stated that the video no longer exists.

That meeting and emails are part of the lawsuit, in which the Del Bagnos accuse Atlanta Public Schools and administrators of "a cover up" and "deliberately exposing their son to bullying."

In its answer to the legal action, in general, APS denies each and every allegation in the complaint but that isn't stopping Del Bagno.

"One of the prime instigators of the attack, who after the attack, came up to Jeffrey very nicely and said, 'I hope you learned your lesson '(expletive)'!" he said.

"I think we all agreed it was a football issue, we were going to handle it like a football issue," Ashley said. 

According to its policies and rules in the student handbook, there is mandatory reporting of crimes when a student assaults another student.

"Let me tell you how I normally operate. If I get a valid altercation to this degree, during school hours, the police come in, even a little boy got knocked in the groin, did a police report on that," Ashley stated in the secretly recorded meeting. 

But the police weren't called for Jeffrey.

"You want to know the extent to the medical care they gave my son? The coach threw him a towel said go into the bathroom, take care of your nose," his dad replied.

In its defense, APS says it acted in good faith recognizing all applicable law. Its attorney accused Jeffrey of throwing the first punch, also stating, "There had been no previous history of bullying."

However, after the incident, the school acknowledged there were problem students on the football team.

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