Former student files lawsuit against Tuscaloosa Co. School System about teacher sex case
A new, federal lawsuit against the Tuscaloosa County School System alleges school leaders and the school board knew of an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and student at Brookwood High School, and allowed it to continue for more than one year.
It's a case you may remember. In 2015, illicit pictures of the student and teacher were anonymously leaked over the internet. That's when authorities charged Joe Bradley Petrey with having sex with a student.
The criminal case against Petrey was dismissed in February because the student did not cooperate with the case. But now, she is ready to tell her story and filed a new federal suit aimed at the system that she says failed to protect her.
Abigail Weissenbach is now 21 years old. She says the relationship she had with her teacher began four years ago, when she was a junior at Brookwood High School.
“I was going through a hard time and it was really nice to feel like I had someone who was in my corner that really really cared,” Weissenbach told ABC 33/40.
Weissenbach says the teacher started out as a friend and mentor.
“He kind of coached me in Christianity and talked to me a lot about that and would ask me to sit behind his desk and it really just grew from there really quickly and it turned into something before I really knew it was going down that path,” she said.
Weissenbach’s attorney Kim Malone calls Petrey’s relationship with his student “unacceptable.”
“It was a serious relationship, a sexual relationship,” said Malone. “They were seeing each other, checking in and out of hotels, doing the things adults do.”
“It was an unhealthy, abusive relationship I was in and what he did to me was wrong,” said Weissenbach.
“Looking back now I feel very embarrassed and stupid that I believed everything he said and went along with it,” she added.
The new lawsuit focuses on the school system the relationship happened in.
“It makes me sick!” said Weissenbach’s dance teacher, Alyce Armstrong.
Armstrong said reported the relationship to the school's principals in early 2014, after she realized the "Brad" Weissenbach kept talking about was her teacher, and not a classmate.
“I emailed the school, all three principals of the school that night and told them I didn't know specifics but that I suspected there was a relationship going on with them,” said Armstrong.
The email was followed by a conference call. Armstrong thought the situation was handled.
“They assured me they completed their investigation and handled their file over to the board,” said Armstrong. “They said they had to follow their protocol and they had followed it and that it was in the board’s hands.”
“They knew but they didn't take any action,” said Weissenbach. “If he was investigated, seemingly nothing happened because I sat in his classroom behind his desk everyday. I didn't even have my own desk. And to tell me you don’t notice a student skipping lunch to eat lunch with their teacher, spending in the mornings, sitting with him or being alone in his classroom, to not take action.”
Weissenbach says she was back in his class her senior year and she says their relationship continued.
After graduation, illicit photos were released anonymously. The photos lead to his arrest and departure from the school system.
“After it came out and the photos were everywhere, his grip on me tightened more than it had before,” said Weissenbach. “So I was not just scared to cooperate with the police but I felt guilty because that’s what he told me. This was my fault. This was because of me. It was humiliating. I felt bad about it. And I just wanted it all to go away.”
Now, she’s stepping up and telling her story, planning to see this federal lawsuit through.
“I'm finally ready, as hard as it is, to come forward so this doesn't happen again,” said Weissenbach. “Because it already happened to me and it's been terrible but I don't want it to happen to anyone else.”
The lawsuit is not asking for a specific amount of money. It does ask for attorney fees and for damages to be decided by a jury.
ABC 33/40 went to Brookwood High School looking for answers, but the principal was not available to talk with us.
We went to the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education. Superintendent Dr. Walter Davie was in the building, but would not meet with us or provide comment.
We emailed members of the Board of Education, but have not heard back.