A Delaware teenager is accusing staff at her former high school of sharing surveillance video showing her exposed breast and creating a meme about it.
Aniya Harmon’s lawsuit alleges that the Indian River School District, Sussex Central High School, interim principal Bradley Layfield and assistant principal Matthew Jones violated her privacy in connection with an incident that occurred in May while she was 18 years old.
According to the suit, Layfield showed staff surveillance video of an altercation in which Harmon’s clothes came off as a school employee pulled him away from another student during a dispute. The lawsuit claims that, in collaboration with Layfield, Jones then used a screenshot to create a meme that included singer Janet Jackson, whose breast was exposed during the infamous Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction.” 2004.
A lawyer for Layfield told HuffPost that he had no role in creating the meme and that he shared the surveillance video with staff to promote safety. It was unclear whether Jones had an attorney, and he did not immediately respond to a request for comment via his school email.
According to the lawsuit, Harmon was involved in a verbal argument between a male and female student on the morning of May 17.
Harmon, who passed the two, told the student to calm down, leading the student to yell at her and threaten her, according to the lawsuit.
A lawyer for Layfield, Thomas Neuberger, described the incident as a fight and alleged that Harmon yelled at the student and told the student to be quiet before attacking her.
A staff member attempted to interrupt the incident by pulling on Harmon’s jacket, causing her clothing to separate and expose her right breast. Neuberger said the staff member restraining Harmon attempted to restrain her and inadvertently pulled down her shirt, revealing her chest for “1 to 2 seconds” and “for 2 to 3 steps.”
Neuberger said the principal reviewed surveillance footage to determine what happened, calling it a serious fight with “racial overtones.”
In an interview with HuffPost, Harmon said there was no physical fight.
“The girl was screaming very loudly. I turned around and told him to shut up because no one wants to hear that early in the morning. After that, that’s when she started going after me verbally (in a disrespectful tone). So I exchanged a few words back, and that’s when I was pulled from behind and my breast fell out – my right breast,” Harmon said.
Attorney Emeka Igwe, representing Harmon, told HuffPost that Neuberger’s assertion that the incident in the hallway had racial overtones was “inappropriate.”
Igwe said, “There was absolutely no racial thing going on other than the fact that Aniya was African American and the woman involved was Caucasian.”
According to Neuberger, Layfield invited staff members into his office throughout the day to view the footage on his computer to teach them how to be safe during fights.
“Dr. Layfield reports that there have been countless fights in which surveillance camera footage was shared with staff members to keep the school safe and protect students from further fights,” said Dr. Layfield. Neuberger said.
Igwe added that to his knowledge, the people who saw the video were all male teachers and had no reason to watch it for school safety reasons.
“This was clearly shared for their perverse amusement…their pleasure,” Igwe said. “These people had no reason to watch the video for school safety reasons. »
According to the lawsuit, Harmon should have left school for a few days after the incident. When she returned to campus on May 19, her mother began hearing rumors about a Janet Jackson meme with the singer’s face superimposed on Harmon’s image from surveillance footage, a a spokesperson for her attorney told HuffPost, and her suspicions were confirmed last week when she and her family met with the Delaware Department of Justice. Harmon and his family call for a criminal investigation into the matter; The state attorney and state police did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s questions.
Tosha White, Harmon’s mother, told HuffPost that the school never contacted her or her daughter to inform them that the meme was circulating.
“We are angry. We are upset. There are so many emotions going on, but I think those are the most important,” White said. “How can you do something like that to someone and then act like it never happened or nothing existed?”»
Layfield and Jones were placed on administrative leave, according to the lawsuit. In a statement to HuffPost, the Indian River School District said it does not comment on pending litigation.
In an August press release, Neuberger said Layfield should never have been suspended and is now seeking to “clear his name.”
Neuberger added: “All that being said, if the district feels that it was an abuse of discretion on the part of my client on four separate occasions to show this video that day, put him on notice, put a letter in his folder and return it to its functions. And clear his reputation. STOP THE RUMORS!
Neuberger told HuffPost that Layfield had received threats from community members and was also under investigation by the state school board to determine whether he should lose his license and professional educator accreditation.
Harmon told HuffPost that her social life has been significantly affected since the incident, adding that she feels upset, disappointed and shocked.
“I do not go out. I’m not doing anything. I kind of go to work and school,” Harmon said.
In an interview with ABC affiliate WMDT, Harmon and her mother indicated that they did not want to see Layfield and Jones working with children or in a school district.
Harmon added, “In that situation, it definitely made me feel uncomfortable.”