News Article Details

Eddie Perillo files far-reaching lawsuit

Northwest Florida Daily News - 3/22/2018

March 22--FORT WALTON BEACH -- Eddie Perillo filed a lawsuit Wednesday against all parties linked to the Okaloosa County School District child abuse investigation involving his non-verbal child with autism.

The federal lawsuit, submitted at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday with the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, is a massive 66-page document targeting three state agencies -- Okaloosa County School Board, Okaloosa County School District and Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office -- involved in the 2016 case against former Kenwood Elementary pre-K special education teacher Marlynn Stillions. Stillions was arrested in September on four felony counts of child abuse without great bodily harm, which included the alleged abuse of Perillo's then 4-year-old son, Noah.

Perillo's lawsuit, though, doesn't stop at the state level.

Also listed as defendants are Mary Beth Jackson, OCSD superintendent; Stacie Smith, former OCSD assistant superintendent of human resources; Arden Farley, OCSD investigator; Angelyn Vaughan, former Kenwood principal; Joan Pickard, current Kenwood principal; Melody Sommer, OCSD Exceptional Student Education director; Dwayne Vasiloff, former Kenwood school resource officer; plus Stillions and 30 other unnamed individuals.

The document separates the defendants among 20 counts, in which Perillo believes them to be at fault. The charges alleged include conspiracy, battery and neglect.

Perillo -- represented by the Brooks LeBoeuf Bennett Foster & Gwartney, P.A. law firm from Tallahassee -- is demanding a trial by jury, according to the lawsuit. On top of $75,000 in compensatory damages for each count, punitive damages also are being requested, which could add up to millions of dollars if awarded by a jury.

Widespread neglect

Perillo's case against the Okaloosa County School District began in May 2017 after he obtained through a public records request an investigative report filed in June 2016 by Farley.

Perillo said he had no knowledge of either the abuse or investigative report -- which confirmed Stillions had physically harmed Noah -- until an employee of Kenwood tipped him off to the report's existence.

The investigation was declared invalid and closed 30 days before Jackson was re-elected superintendent on Aug. 30, 2016, and no action was ever taken against Stillions.

The report was made public a year after Smith decided to close the case, initiated by Perillo providing a copy to both the Sheriff's Office and the Northwest Florida Daily News. The Sheriff's Office launched its own investigation, leading to Stillions' arrest in September.

Farley, Smith and Vaughan also were arrested and charged with multiple felony counts for failure to report suspected child abuse. The cases have not yet been brought to trial.

The lawsuit focuses on the four arrested individuals -- Stillions, Vaughan, Farley and Smith -- for neglect that caused Noah to endure "excessive" physical and verbal abuse, and restraint and seclusion.

Stillions alone was accused of battery for allegedly pinching Noah, throwing away his meals and spraying him in the mouth and face with vinegar as forms of punishment, using her foot to push him down a lunchroom aisle, kneeing him in the head and body, purposely tripping him, and carrying him by the back of his shirt collar and pants.

Jackson, Pickard and Vasiloff are included in the counts involving negligence. The document states the superintendent, principal and SRO had a responsibility to protect students, including Noah, from abuse

'Conspiracy to interfere'

In the lawsuit, Perillo accuses all parties involved in the investigation -- Jackson, Smith, Farley, Vaughan, Pickard, Sommer, Stillions and Vasiloff -- for conspiring to cover up the abuse.

The document states they not only failed to respond to reports of abuse, but also overlooked, ignored, disregarded and/or inadequately remedied the "rampant child abuse" within the district.

"Defendants reached a mutual understanding, agreement and/or plan to deprive Plaintiff (Noah) of his constitutional and civil rights in that they conspired to cover up violations of Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by engaging in overt acts to further the conspiracy ..." the lawsuit reads.

The document also accuses the same individuals of denying Noah equal protection and freedom from excessive use of force.

The eight individuals named, according to the complaint, cultivated a culture and atmosphere of intimidation, which caused employees to fear stopping, assisting with or reporting civil rights violations.

The defendants, the lawsuit says, demonstrated recklessness and/or deliberate indifference to Noah's rights by ignoring rampant child abuse and failing to respond to child abuse reports.

The Okaloosa County School District and the Okaloosa County School Board as a whole also are being sued for excessive use of force and equal protection.

The Vasiloff investigation

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office will have to defend itself against the lawsuit's claims that individuals within the department neglected their duties to properly hire and train deputies.

The accusation centers around the OCSO investigation and discipline of Vasiloff for "blatantly" failing to assist the Florida Department of Children and Families in numerous child abuse investigations as the SRO at Kenwood.

Vasiloff was appointed Kenwood's school resource officer in 2013 and served there until being disciplined following an OCSO internal investigation early in the Perillo case. According to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Michele Nicholson, he "voluntarily retired from the agency" on July 20.

The Okaloosa County School District, School Board, Jackson, Smith, Vaughan and Pickard are facing the same accusations in the lawsuit.

All defendants are accused of failing to responsibly hire, train, instruct, supervise, retain and/or discipline their employees -- including Vasiloff and Stillions.

Finally, all defendants mentioned in the document are being sued for denying Noah his right to dignity, privacy and humane care, including the right to be free from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

"(The) defendants owned a duty to N.P. (Noah) to recognize, comply with, protect and take reasonable steps to ensure the rights and privileges of the developmentally disabled," the lawsuit said.

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(c)2018 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)

Visit the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) at www.nwfdailynews.com

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