By Erick Johnson, Gary Crusader
Tensions are running high at the Gary School Board where Trustee Carlos Tolliver is fighting an emergency protection order after he was accused of stalking Gary Community School Corporation Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt.
Pruitt filed for the protective order last month. Since then Tolliver, an outspoken trustee, cannot attend school board meetings while Pruitt is present. Meanwhile in court documents, Pruitt says she fears for her life.
It’s the latest move in a spiraling crisis at the Gary School Board, where members are at odds over how Pruitt has been cutting costs to keep the debt-ridden school system afloat. But with the latest legal wrangling between Pruitt and Tolliver, things may get even worse.
On February 22, Pruitt filed an emergency order of protection against Tolliver in the Lake Circuit Superior Court in East Chicago.
According to the complaint obtained by the Gary Crusader, Pruitt claims that she has been the victim of stalking during two incidents where she said Tolliver threatened her.
The first incident, which occurred at the Gary Community School Corporation’s Administration office involved alleged “verbal attacks,” but Pruitt did list details of the alleged attacks and the dates on which they allegedly occurred.
The second alleged incident occurred at the Gary Area Career Center on February 14, according to court documents. Here, Pruitt said Tolliver “walked close to me and stated ‘All bets are off … I am going to get you’,” according to court documents.
“What the hell does that mean?” said Tolliver’s attorney, Darnail Lyles, who called the accusations unfounded, and said his client never attacked or threatened Pruitt.
In the emergency protection order, Pruitt claims that people witnessed the alleged incident. They include Marlon Mitchell, Roy Hamilton and Rosie Washington. The Crusader was unable to reach them for comment as of press time on Wednesday, March 1.
Pruitt is demanding that Tolliver pay the legal fees from the protection order. She is also asking Tolliver to reimburse her for medical and counseling expenses she had to pay as a result of the alleged attacks. According to the court document, those expenses are to be determined.
When reached by phone on Wednesday, March 1, Pruitt declined to comment on the protection order and Tolliver’s alleged actions.
The protective order requires Tolliver to stay away from Pruitt’s residence, school or place of employment. Tolliver attended a school board meeting Tuesday, February 28, but Lyles said “Tolliver didn’t violate the order at Tuesday night’s school board meeting because Superintendent Pruitt wasn’t there.”
Tolliver, one of four new school board members, often criticized the actions of Pruitt and the school board even before voters elected him in November. Tolliver’s campaign message asked voters to defeat the school referendum property tax increase and vote for school accountability by the district’s administrators. The referendum was defeated.
Lyles said Tolliver is still raising the issue of accountability. The district has a debt of $101 million and state lawmakers are considering whether to take control of the district’s finances.
“This is an attempt to muzzle him,” Lyles said. “This ain’t stalking. People are being disenfranchised because they voted for him. He can’t go to the meetings and be a watchdog.”
Lyles said the order should have never been issued.
A court hearing in East Chicago was scheduled for March 27, but Lyles filed a request to move it up to Thursday, March 2. Now, Lyles said, the request is in limbo because Pruitt has requested the hearing be moved to a later date and out of East Chicago.
Lyles said Pruitt’s stalking claims are not covered under an Indiana statute. The law defines stalking as “knowing or an intentional course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another person that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened.”
However, Lyles said the statute does not include statutorily or constitutionally protected activity, which he said his client practiced as he opposed Pruitt.
“In context to all the shenanigans going on at the school board, Tolliver’s statement of all bets are off would be an accurate statement,” Lyles said.