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Suspended Crockett coach Sensabaugh sues school board, Halliburton for $5M, reinstatement

Jessica Fuller • Updated Jan 20, 2018 at 7:53 AM

Gerald Sensabaugh wants his job back. So he’s suing the Washington County Board of Education and Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton for $5 million.

The former David Crockett High School head football coach filed the suit Friday in U.S. District Court, claiming the school board and Halliburton violated his free speech rights when they disciplined him last fall during football season.

“Specifically, the defendants, the Board and Director Halliburton, retaliated against their public employee, Coach Sensabaugh, after he spoke out via social media about matters and issues of public concern related to the Washington County public schools, by issuing him a letter of guidance dated October 5, 2017,” the suit states. “The Letter of Guidance contained allegations directed at Coach Sensabaugh’s professional conduct as head football coach, but were merely a pretext by the Board and/or Director Halliburton to cloak their true motive and intention, which was to punish Coach Sensabaugh for exercising his constitutional right to speak out publicly on matters of public concern.”

When contacted, Sensabaugh declined to comment on the suit itself, but told the Press his primary concern is for the Crockett students, adding that he is unhappy the investigation of the allegations lodged against him is taking so long, deeming the process “unprofessional.”

He also said he is concerned about “the mistreatment of employees,” and that he would do whatever he could to get back on the field.

“The goal has always been the same — to build that (football) program to be successful and one that Washington County can be proud of and trying to get everything back on track,” he said. “I just feel like time is being wasted when I could be back with my team.

“I want people to know that I’m trying to fight for their kids and giving them what they need to be successful.”

The former Dallas Cowboys safety and Kingsport native was hired last January as Crockett’s head football coach to much fanfare from the Washington County community, but he was suspended nine months later amid a feud with school administrators. At issue was his refusal of requests by a principal to remove unapproved photos of students from a social media post in which he criticized the state of Jonesborough Elementary School, accusations he used abusive language toward students and coaches, and a claim that he practiced an injured player who was not cleared for workouts.

Sensabaugh’s suit goes on to allege that the school board and Halliburton continued to retaliate against him by issuing him a letter of reprimand dated Oct. 9, 2017, placing him on administrative leave and suspending him from his coaching position.

Halliburton told the Press Friday afternoon that she could not give a comment since the district’s attorney has not yet reviewed the documents.

“It is the policy of the Washington County Board of Education to respect the rights of all employees, and we have no reason to believe that any rights were violated in this case,” she said in a statement.

Among the allegations in the suit is a detailed private lunch Sensabaugh had with Halliburton, he assuming that she would talk to him about missing football funds. Instead, the suit alleges Halliburton tried to gain Sensabaugh’s support in removing two Board of Education members, Annette Buchanan and Mary Beth Dellinger, who did not support her as director or her ideas.

The suit says Sensabaugh declined and that he “lost complete trust” in Halliburton after the lunch.

In a meeting with administrators to reprimand him for the accused actions, Sensabaugh accused Crockett Athletic Director Josh Kite of coming to work under the influence of Oxycodone, a prescription opioid, and said Kite offered him pills.

In a three-hour recorded interview included with the suit, Sensabaugh tells the board’s attorneys that Kite showed him a book bag with eight or nine bottles of pills and said that Sensabaugh could have some if he ever wanted them. Sensabaugh goes on to say he doesn’t think Kite is a drug dealer, just that Kite is “a person who is addicted to pain medication.”

In the same interview, attorneys question Sensabaugh on his decision to practice an injured student. Per the documents, the student had a sprained ankle, and Sensabaugh said that he had the student perform five to 10 minutes of “light drill work,” which he describes in the interview as light jogging and high knees.

“Listen, light drill work is not a practice,” he says in the interview. “That’s my stance. Light drill work is not a practice, and I believe TSSAA will support that statement.”

He also rebuffs claims that he cursed at a student, and said he never used profanity where students could hear him.

Sensabaugh has insisted he has done no wrong and instead is the target of a smear campaign by school district officials. Both Sensabaugh and Kite were placed on administrative leave while an independent law firm investigated the accusations and reports recommendations regarding their employment to Halliburton.

Shortly after his suspension, Sensabaugh threatened legal action, which came to fruition in Friday’s filing by his attorney Phillip E. Fleenor of Duncan, Hatcher, Holland & Fleenor in Chattanooga.

Along with reinstatement to his coaching position, Sensabaugh’s suit seeks an “awarded a judgment and monetary damages against the Board and Director Halliburton, individually, jointly and severally, on all counts herein in an amount to be proven at trial but not less than $5,000,000.00.”

The suit calls for a jury trial on the suit.

In December, Sensabaugh picked up papers to run for mayor of Sullivan County.

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Previously reported:

Gerald Sensabaugh wants his job back. So he’s suing the Washington County Board of Education and Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton for $5 million.

The former David Crockett High School head football coach filed the suit Friday in U.S. District Court, claiming the school board and Halliburton violated his free speech rights when they disciplined him last fall during football season.

“Specifically, the defendants, the Board and Director Halliburton, retaliated against their public employee, Coach Sensabaugh, after he spoke out via social media about matters and issues of public concern related to the Washington County public schools, by issuing him a letter of guidance dated October 5, 2017” the suit states. “The Letter of Guidance contained allegations directed at Coach Sensabaugh’s professional conduct as head football coach, but were merely a pretext by the Board and/or Director Halliburton to cloak their true motive and intention, which was to punish Coach Sensabaugh for exercising his constitutional right to speak out publicly on matters of public concern.”

Read the full suit here.

In January, the former Dallas Cowboys safety and Kingsport native was hired as Crockett’s head football coach to much fanfare from the Washington County community, but he was suspended nine months later amid a feud with school administrators. At issue was his refusal of requests by a principal to remove unapproved photos of students from a social media post in which he criticized the state of Jonesborough Elementary School, accusations he used abusive language toward students and coaches, and a claim that he practiced an injured player who was not cleared for workouts.

The suit goes on to allege that the school board and Halliburton continued to retaliate against Sensabugh by issuing him a letter of reprimand dated Oct. 9, 2017, placing him on administrative leave and suspending him from his coaching position.

In a meeting with administrators to reprimand him for the accused actions, Sensabaugh accused Crockett athletic director Josh Kite of coming to work under the influence of Oxycodone, a prescription opioid, and said Kite offered him pills. Sensabaugh has insisted he has done no wrong and instead is the target of a smear campaign by school district officials. Both Sensabaugh and Kite were placed on administrative leave while an independent law firm investigated the accusations and reports recommendations regarding their employment to Halliburton.

Shortly after his suspension, Sensabaugh threatened legal action, which came to fruition in Friday’s filing by his attorney Phillip E. Fleenor of Duncan, Hatcher, Holland & Fleenor in Chattanooga.

Along with reinstatement to his coaching position, Sensabaugh’s suit seeks an “awarded a judgment and monetary damages against the Board and Director Halliburton, individually, jointly and severally, on all counts herein in an amount to be proven at trial but not less than $5,000,000.00.”

The suit calls for a jury trial on the suit.

In December, Sensabaugh picked up papers to run for mayor of Sullivan County.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more on this developing story.

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