Before Georgia high school teacher Villie Jones was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting four metro Atlanta students, Gwinnett County Public Schools administrators ignored evidence that the band teacher was abusing teenage girls, according to a lawsuit against the district.
One of Jones’ alleged victims has sued the school district and multiple employees, alleging the district worked to cover up Jones’ three years of sexual abuse and should have known he had sexual contact with students in previous jobs.
The lawsuit was filed in then U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on July 6.
Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, South Gwinnett High School Principal Monique Lee, former South Gwinnett High School Principal Eric Thigpen and five unidentified South Gwinnett High School employees who were involved in hiring Jones are named as defendants.
Jones, 45, has been indicted on 21 charges of sexual assault and child molestation. He remains in jail and his trial will begin shortly after a challenge to the constitutionality of the sexual assault statute is resolved, Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Matt Acuff said.
Jones is one of four Gwinnett County teachers arrested last May on sexual assault charges involving a student.
Gwinnett County Public Schools declined to comment on the lawsuit. Lee, Thigpen and Wilbanks did not respond to requests for comment.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not identifying the plaintiff because she is an alleged victim of sexual abuse and was a minor at the time the alleged abuse occurred.
She is being represented by Melvin Hewitt, of the Atlanta-based firm Isenberg & Hewitt PC.
Jones began sexually assaulting female students at South Gwinnett High School in November 2014, three months after he started working at the school, the lawsuit says. The abuse continued through April 2017, less than two weeks before Jones was arrested, the suit says.
Both the lawsuit and court documents identify four female victims: one student under the age of 16 and three others between the ages of 16 and 18. The victim who filed the lawsuit was 17 when Jones allegedly abused her. Most of the sexual assaults occurred on school property, according to the suit.
A student showed Thigpen, then the principal, and Lee, then the vice principal, a video of Jones “wrestling” with, groping and lying on top of female students in March 2016, but neither administrator reported the video to authorities or took any disciplinary action against Jones, the lawsuit says. It goes on to claim that Thigpen and Lee told the student to send them a copy of the video and then “destroy or delete” it.
Jones was allowed to resign before his arrest in May and cite "health reasons," the suit says. District payroll records say that Jones was "terminated with pay" due to "relocation within Georgia," according to the lawsuit.
The district and school administrators did not thoroughly vet Jones before hiring him and "should have been aware that Jones had a history of inappropriate sexual contact with students," the lawsuit claims. Jones was not charged with any crime related to sexual relations with a student before May 2017, and he passed a background check before getting the job at South Gwinnett High School.
Jones had a sexual relationship with a student in Cumberland County, North Carolina, beginning when she was a sophomore in high school, about 10 years ago, Acuff said during a bond hearing in February. The relationship resulted in a child born when the former student was 21 years old, Jones' sister confirmed at the hearing.
The plaintiff is asking the district and other defendants for financial damages to cover costs including medical and psychological care and attorneys' fees.
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