A Little Rock-based law firm has cleared Pine Bluff High School principal Michael Nellums of any wrongdoing connected to allegations of sexual harassment.
A Little Rock-based law firm has cleared Pine Bluff High School principal Michael Nellums of any wrongdoing connected to allegations of sexual harassment. The Commercial obtained the 25-page report where more than 20 people were interviewed about their dealings with Nellums and a former student.
“Though pleased with the outcome, I am angry that anyone could destroy a 30-plus year career with blatant lies and deception,” said Nellums in an email to The Commercial. “I have always been professional with faculty and students and expected the results would support that. I look forward to returning to work for our children and the community that needs opportunities for those children."
On Jan. 29, Nellums was placed on administrative leave after the district learned of a lawsuit filed by Alquantavious Stokes who attended Pine Bluff High School. Stokes named Nellums, Pine Bluff School District superintendent, Jeremy Owoh and the district in his suit.
“Plaintiff participated in sports,” the lawsuit alleges. “Plaintiff got into a fight. Plaintiff was brought into Nellums’ office and threatened [him] with expulsion. Nellums then came behind plaintiff and started rubbing plaintiff’s back while at the same time Nellums held his own genitals.”
The lawsuit further states that because Stokes denied Nellums’ advances that he was banned from participating in school activities and sports. The class action complaint claims that Nellums sexually harassed more than 23 students at Pine Bluff High School and “successfully” engaged in sexual activity with some of them.” The suit even accuses security guards at the high school of sexually harassing students.
“I have never engaged in inappropriate relationships with faculty, staff or students in any district,” wrote Nellums who has previously worked in Pulaski County.
Emily Runyon, of Munson, Rowlett, Moore and Boone Law Firm, conducted the investigation into Nellums at the request of the school district. Per the report, Runyon began her investigation on Jan. 31 after the district contacted her on Jan. 30.
“Pursuant to our agreement, I began an investigation for the district regarding alleged inappropriate behavior on the part of the Pine Bluff School District high school principal Michael Nellums…,” the report states.
The findings included summaries of interviews from 21 people ranging from faculty to staff to former employees. Runyon noted that multiple people had never witnessed Nellums engage in behavior deemed unbecoming of a high school principal towards students or his colleagues.
“… Ms. Williams stated that she never had any issues with Dr. Nellums,” Runyon wrote in her report. “He had never made her feel uncomfortable or sexually harassed. She never witnessed any inappropriate behavior by Dr. Nellums towards any student or staff member.”
Runyon went on to say that Williams “never had any co-workers, teachers or staff talk to her about feeling uncomfortable around Dr. Nellums” adding the same sentiments for security guards at the school.
While Nellums was described as a “firm, but fair” leader by interviewees, those who remembered Stokes, characterized him as a troublemaker who got into fights frequently.
“Officer Collins believed he first ran across student Al Stokes when Al was a ninth grader,” Runyon wrote. “The reason he recalled Al’s ninth grade year was, because he got into so many fights on campus during the school year. Officer Collins described them as gang fights.”
Based on Runyon’s notes, Collins and others also recalled Stokes’ encounters outside of school including a shooting. Last year, The Commercial reported on a shooting that happened at Kibb’s BBQ Restaurant on Blake Street. According to the police report, Stokes was one of three victims who suffered gunshot wounds on June 19.
“Officer Collins said the last time he had heard about Al Stokes, he heard through the community and on the news that he had been shot maybe two or three times at this point,” Runyon wrote. “Officer Collins stated he never had any personal problems with Al, he just wished he could have turned his life around and gotten it on track.”
In Runyon’s report, she said she couldn’t conclude that “the district had any reason to know of sexual harassment complaints by any student, including Alquantavious Stokes, against Dr. Nellums.” She also stated there wasn’t “enough information from the investigation to conclude that Dr. Nellums conducted himself in an inappropriate manner with student Alquantavious Stokes or any other student outside of the version of facts included in the complaint” filed by Stokes’ attorney.
“It appears that a large number of district employees that had daily interactions with Dr. Nellums and spent the majority of their working days within the general vicinity of Dr. Nellums did not have any reason to suspect misconduct on his part, did not witness any behaviors deemed inappropriate with students or adults and never at any time during that period received notification by any student or staff member of a problem or complaint,” Runyon wrote.
Lucien Gillham, Stokes’ attorney, found Runyon’s report to be incomplete based on her refusal to investigate multiple sworn witness testimonies connected to Nellum’s investigation.
“When she refused to consider those things, I think she was basically doing an investigation with blinders on,” Gillham said. “I think she was trying to make sure that she only found what the school district wanted found, which was that nothing happened. It was designed to come to a specific result, which was defend the school district and to not find the truth.”
According to Nellums’ attorney, Lawrence Walker, he is set to return to work although a date has not been determined.