Ex-Indianapolis elementary teacher orchestrated ‘fight club’-style disciplinary system, lawsuit says

Opinion: Just one more reason to get your children out of the “Government Schools”.

Ex-Indianapolis elementary teacher orchestrated 'fight club'-style disciplinary system, lawsuit says
Ex-Indianapolis elementary teacher orchestrated 'fight club'-style disciplinary system, lawsuit says
Tony CookCaroline Beck


INDIANAPOLIS — A former Indianapolis elementary school teacher orchestrated a “fight club”-style disciplinary system and encouraged his young students to physically assault each other, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Marion Superior Court.

Central to the lawsuit is a disturbing video in which the teacher appears to record one student attacking another with his approval. It shows a student on the classroom floor crying while another boy repeatedly punches him in the head and face and slams his head to the ground.

“That’s right,” the teacher says, “you get him.”

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of the 7-year-old victim and his mother, claims the boy suffered a “systematic and severe pattern of abuse” at George Washington Carver Montessori IPS School 87. The suit accuses Indianapolis Public Schools and multiple staffers of failing to protect the boy, described as a special needs student.

The lawsuit and video were first reported by Fox59.

It’s the latest case to raise questions about abuse reporting at schools and other institutions that serve children.

The lawsuit claims the boy suffered months of abusive behavior under teacher Julious Johnican, but that the school didn’t take the allegations seriously until the inadvertent disclosure of the video in November. That’s when the boy’s parents insisted that the school contact the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS).

The ensuing DCS investigation substantiated an allegation of neglect against the teacher in February. But the teacher was allowed to resign and allegations were not forwarded to prosecutors. Johnican’s teaching license remains valid.

That’s a major concern, according to Catherine Michael and Tammy Meyer, the family’s attorneys.

“We’re alleging that there was knowledge about this, it took a video coming out and it took a parent demanding that the police and DCS was called,” Michael said, adding: “This teacher wasn’t even fired. This teacher resigned. This teacher hasn’t been charged yet. This teacher can go out there and work with children.”

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‘He did not have enough patience that day’

IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network, could not reach Johnican, who was in his first year as a full-time teacher. But in an interview with DCS investigators, he said the students in the video had been fighting all day before the recorded incident, which took place on Sept. 23.

“Mr. Johnican stated that he did not have enough patience that day and he did not interfere,” according to DCS’s assessment report. “He stated that he videoed the fight to have proof of what was happening.”

The recorded incident was not the only one, according to the boy’s statements to DCS.

In one case, he told DCS, Johnican held him while another student slapped him in the face. When the child asked Johnican why he allowed the student to slap him, the teacher allegedly responded, “Because you’re a second-grader and he’s a first-grader. You’re stronger!”

In another case, the boy said Johnican held his shoulders while another student punched him in the stomach and kicked him in the legs. The boy said Johnican gave the other student permission to attack him.

Johnican has not been charged with any crime. A spokesperson for Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said Wednesday the office had not received a report or investigation from law enforcement.

“Since being made aware of the allegations, we have reached out to IPS Police and DCS for more information,” the prosecutor’s spokesman, Michael Leffler, said in an email.

What did Indianapolis Public Schools officials know?

In an emailed statement, IPS spokesperson Marc Ransford said the district “does not tolerate the type of behavior alleged in the complaint and takes reports of potential abuse and neglect seriously.”

“When IPS learned of the teacher’s conduct, the Department of Child Services was immediately notified, and the teacher was removed from the classroom and suspended,” he said. “The teacher had no further contact with students and is no longer employed by IPS.”

But attorneys Michael and Meyer said the boy had raised concerns about the alleged abuse for months.

The boy began telling his parents about abusive behavior in the classroom as early as August. His claims were so shocking that his mother had trouble believing them.

“This is just such an unbelievable thing to have happen,” Michael said. “You think initially, maybe a child is exaggerating, and that no teacher would be doing this.”

The boy’s parents communicated with the teacher on multiple occasions regarding the boy’s reports of being attacked, bullied, threatened, and injured in the classroom, but Johnican dismissed the accounts as fabrications and suggested they stemmed from a personality disorder, the lawsuit says.

The boy’s disabilities included sensory sensitivities, an executive function disorder, and probable learning disabilities, according to the lawsuit.

The boy’s mother met with the vice principal in September and relayed her concerns, but there was no follow-up, the lawsuit said. The boy also told an IPS behavioral consultant about the abuse, the lawsuit says, but the consultant did not report the allegations to DCS or IPS administrators.

A substitute teaching aide in the classroom also witnessed the alleged abuse, according to the lawsuit. The boy told DCS that the aide said special needs students were demonically possessed and told him that “holy water needed to be poured on him” to cure him of his evil.

In an interview with DCS, the aide denied making those comments but acknowledged she had witnessed Johnican recording an altercation involving the boy. When she asked him why he was recording it, he told her he wanted to show the boy’s mother, according to the DCS report.

Lawsuit: Teacher disclosed video ‘inadvertently’

The lawsuit contends that the video of the boy being beaten would not have seen the light of day except that Johnican accidentally disclosed it during a parent-teacher conference in late October or early November.

As part of the meeting, Johnican was going to show a video of the classroom environment to the parents, but inadvertently began showing the wrong video, the lawsuit says. What the parents saw shocked them, according to the family’s attorneys. Their son was on the floor crying as another boy struck him repeatedly.

When the boy’s parents saw their son being attacked, they tried to grab the phone from Johnican, causing the volume to be turned up so that the parents could hear the teacher encouraging the beating, the lawsuit says. The parents reported the video to the school secretary and demanded that police and DCS be called immediately, according to the lawsuit.

In his emailed statement, Ransford, the IPS spokesperson, said IPS “was not aware of any fights encouraged or sanctioned by this or any other teacher from the student’s parents or otherwise, until the parent emailed the principal at 6:58 p.m. Oct. 30.”

He said Principal Mary Kapcoe first viewed the email early the next day and immediately contacted DCS and IPS human resources. The teacher was immediately removed from the building, he said.

Two days later, human resources interviewed Johnican as part of its investigation.

“The employee resigned during that meeting before IPS could initiate termination proceedings, which the district was prepared to do based on the information received from the internal investigation,” Ransford said.

The boy’s parents, meanwhile, have withdrawn their son from IPS and are now homeschooling him. He participates in therapeutic counseling at least once a week and his providers have diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuit.

Contact Tony Cook at or follow him on X: @IndyStarTony.

Contact Caroline Beck or follow her on Twitter: @CarolineB_Indy.

Caroline’s reporting is made possible by Report for America and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Report for America is a program of The GroundTruth Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening local newsrooms. Report for America provides funding for up to half of the reporter’s salary during their time with us, and IndyStar is fundraising the remainder. To learn more about how you can support IndyStar’s partnership with Report for America and to make a donation, visit

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