Education

Teacher Saves Drowning Student, Claims School District Retaliated

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A veteran Detroit teacher and basketball coach who saved a drowning student last fall claims the school district retaliated against him for cooperating with the police investigation.

David Zauner is suing East Detroit Public Schools and the athletic director at East Detroit High School, John Rizzo.

On Nov. 8, 2013, Zauner jumped into the swimming pool in dress clothes to rescue the near-lifeless body of student KeAir Swift from the bottom.

Swift, 14, died in the hospital four days later, and criminal charges were brought against a substitute teacher, Johnathan Sails, who had been supervising the pool.

Rizzo was allegedly upset that Zauner gave oral and written statement to police stating that he warned the athletic director that Sails was incompetent as a pool monitor, according to the lawsuit filed in Macomb County Circuit Court.

Sails, who is not a certified lifeguard, allegedly represented himself as one to school officials.

The lawsuit also alleges that the district purchased and placed safety equipment by the pool after the incident.

“Rizzo wanted to ‘cover up’ the equipment purchases and keep it a secret, including from the Eastpointe Police Department,” the complaint states.

Zauner says he was reprimanded for his statements, threatened with termination and placed on probation for the first time in his career and that Rizzo called him names in front of students.

Zauner is "entitled to millions of dollars in damages," his attorney, Thomas Warnicke, said.

"The defendants' retaliatory conduct is utterly reprehensible in our society, especially given that David Zauner is the one person that did everything within his power to save the life of KeAir Swift," Warnicke said.

Sails is facing trial in Macomb County Circuit Court on one charge of felony involuntary manslaughter. Witnesses told a court hearing that Sails was sitting in the bleachers, fully clothed, during the class. He allegedly hesitated to respond to the emergency and once in the pool, said it was too deep to help Swift.

Swift's mother is currently suing Sails, the district, Rizzo and the Professional Educational Services Group which contracted Sails.

Sources: USA Today, Detroit Free Press

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