Retired football coach sued by former standout player in tussle at practice

January 13, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

A former standout Westminster High School football player, who says he was pinned to the ground during a 1992 altercation with his coach, is suing the coach and the county school board for $1 million.

In papers filed Monday in Carroll Circuit Court, Micah L. Shaffer claims now-retired Owls head coach Jeff Oeming "deliberately" threw Mr. Shaffer to the ground during a Labor Day practice session.

Mr. Shaffer, now a senior at the school, "suffered and continues to suffer pain, anguish, anxiety, apprehension and nervousness," the three-count suit says.

The school board also was negligent because it "knew or should have known that [Mr.] Oeming was a man of violent and dangerous disposition," the suit says.

Mr. Oeming, who retired this year after six years as Owls head coach, declined to comment yesterday. In December 1992, prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor battery charge Mr. Shaffer had filed several days after the altercation.

Edmund J. O'Meally, a lawyer for the school board, also declined to comment yesterday, saying he hadn't seen a copy of the lawsuit.

Because of Mr. Oeming, Mr. Shaffer -- the third-best receiver in Carroll County in 1992 -- decided not to play football this year, Mr. Shaffer's attorney said yesterday.

"This kid was unable to play football this year, because he didn't want to play under that coach," Baltimore defense attorney Danny R. Seidman said. "This has ruined any potential for him to play college sports. He isn't the same kid as he was before this happened."

No one disputes that Mr. Oeming pinned Mr. Shaffer to the ground after a Labor Day practice session at the high school. But, according to the attorney who represented the coach in the criminal case, Mr. Shaffer provoked Mr. Oeming.

When prosecutors dropped the battery charge against Mr. Oeming on Dec. 2, 1992, they issued a statement saying the coach was "legally required to take action to maintain an atmosphere of order and discipline" when he pinned Mr. Shaffer to the ground. The statement, noting that Mr. Shaffer was yelling profanities at the coach, said the coach believed Mr. Shaffer was "getting out of control, whereupon he physically acted in a manner to prevent an assault."

Yesterday, Mr. Seidman said that, even if Mr. Shaffer was rude to the coach, the attack on his client was not justified.

"Words -- I don't care what the kid said to the coach -- aren't adequate provocation," Mr. Seidman said. "When you've got high school kids and a high school coach, you can't act in this way."

Mr. Shaffer's criminal complaint -- filed by Mr. Shaffer only after the Maryland State Police declined to file charges against the coach -- said the coach was the aggressor.

"The coach approached me and grabbed me by my face mask and shook my head trying to force me to the ground. As I turned back to go into the locker room, he grabbed me, picked me up and threw me to the pavement," Mr. Shaffer wrote in the criminal complaint.

Mr. Seidman said yesterday that the lawsuit was a "last resort" effort by Mr. Shaffer and his family.

"The family didn't want to pursue this, but the parents weren't satisfied with what the school board has done," the attorney said.

After the tussle, school officials took unspecified action against the coach but allowed him to continue coaching. Mr. Shaffer finished out the 1992 season.

+ No trial date has been set.

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