(Update: On Tuesday, Nov. 21, settlement documents were filed in the Kingfisher Public Schools hazing lawsuit. According to the agreement — embedded below — KPS agreed to pay $1.25 million to one of plaintiff Mason Mecklenburg’s law firms, Nix Patterson, LLP, no later than Feb. 13, 2024. KPS is stipulated to pay $3.75 million to Mecklenburg over the next three years. The funds are set to come out of the district’s sinking fund, meaning the district will pay interest on that amount. Additionally, the agreement stipulates Jeff Myers cannot coach a KPS athletic team again, though he is allowed to teach in the district. The following article remains in its original form.)
While the future employment of head football coach Jeff Myers remains unclear, Kingfisher Public Schools reached a settlement agreement this week in the hazing lawsuit filed by former player Mason Mecklenburg, according to the district’s superintendent and the plaintiff’s attorneys. The lawsuit had been set for trial in less than three weeks, but criminal charges against four people remain pending.
Throughout years of court filings, hearings and trial delays, Mecklenburg and his lawyers had offered at least three settlements to the district. Each asked for progressively more money, the creation of anti-bullying and hazing programs, and the termination of Jeff Myers, the district’s longtime head football coach who was accused of creating a culture of fear, intimidation and physical harassment in his program.
First reported by the Kingfisher Times & Free Press, the final settlement agreement prescribes $5 million in total payments. Because KPS’ prior liability insurance provider dissolved owing to insolvency, the district’s payments in this case will come from current funds and future obligations.
Superintendent David Glover told the Kingfisher newspaper that the settlement involves KPS paying $1.25 million from its general fund within 90 days. The district would pay the remaining $3.75 million over the next three years from the district’s sinking fund, the newspaper reported. District sinking funds stem from ad valorem property taxes and can be used to pay off debts.
It remains unclear what else — such as provisions about Myers’ employment — may be included in the settlement agreement, which has not been filed on the federal PACER court system. The KPS board met and held a two-hour executive session Monday, ultimately voting to “authorize the district’s legal counsel to take such action consistent with the discussions in the executive session,” but it’s possible the board could vote again at its next meeting to formalize the settlement.
Despite publicly discussing the case so extensively for months that the district sought a gag order against them, attorneys for Mecklenburg have offered limited comment this week about the settlement terms.
“Mason Mecklenburg is pleased to have reached an agreement in principle that will allow everyone involved to move forward,” Ross Leonoudakis, one of Mecklenburg’s lawyers, said in a statement Thursday.
Board members will presumably have to convene another meeting to vote to approve the settlement. Oklahoma state statute requires settlement agreements with public bodies to be open records unless sealed by a court.
A request for comment Thursday was not responded to by Kingfisher Public Schools officials prior to the publication of this article.
Mecklenburg: ‘It really did hurt me’
Mecklenburg, now a student at Oklahoma State University, filed the lawsuit July 29, 2021, after he graduated. He alleged that he endured abuse rising to the level of “torture” over the course of his four years in the football program. Mecklenburg said that the four coaches named in the suit knew about the abuse and even perpetuated it on occasion.
“It really did hurt me,” Mecklenburg told NonDoc about his experience on the Kingfisher football team. “But also it just should not happen to anyone else because it’s been a history. It’s been a culture. And it just needs to stop.”
Football coaches charged in Kingfisher, Ringling abuse investigations by Bennett Brinkman
Two of the coaches named in the lawsuit — Myers and former assistant coach Micah Nall — were charged criminally with felony child neglect and felony child abuse, respectively, on Oct. 17. Nall was also charged with perjury, and board member Dana Golbek and Justin Mecklenburg — Mason’s father — were charged with failure to report child abuse. Investigators used evidence gathered for the civil lawsuit to make their charging recommendation to Kingfisher County District Attorney Michael Fields.
Glover, the district’s superintendent, told Michael Swisher of the Kingfisher Times & Free Press that the settlement was not an admission of guilt. Instead, he claimed it was the result of a desire to move forward and a fear that KPS and the coaches would lose in court.
“The decision was reached to settle was from the advice of our counsel,” Glover said. “There were a number of factors that went into the decision by our board, but it was decided that the risk to our school system and to our patrons was too great to gamble on a jury trial that our attorneys just did not think we could win.”
Reached by phone Friday, Myers’ attorney disagreed with Glover’s assessment.
“In my opinion, they’re dead wrong,” Joe White said.
White, who was not part of settlement negotiations, said he has received a letter outlining the settlement terms, one of which would prohibit Myers from coaching at Kingfisher but would allow him to keep teaching, something to which he tried to object.
“If he’s not good enough to coach, why the heck is he good enough to teach?” White said.
White also said he thought the KPS board had already voted on the settlement.
“My opinion is they have voted on it and approved the terms and conditions laid out in a letter I received that essentially said how the Mecklenburgs were going to get their dirty money,” White said. “And it’s a purported global settlement of which we had no interaction, no input.”
In a statement emailed to NonDoc, White bemoaned the aversion of a trial.
“The settlement is distressing and unfortunate on many levels because it sets a precedent for individuals to use social and news media as a conduit to present false information as a means of pressuring and intimidating an organization to settle. If KPS had seen this case through in a court of law much of this information might have been thrown out on its face,” White said. “My client and the citizens of Kingfisher are the true victims here. My client will never get a chance to clear his name in a court of law where social media clickbait is countered by actual evidence under the rules of law. Now, the patrons of Kingfisher School District will be paying the Mecklenburgs and their [attorneys] nearly $5 million without the benefit of a trial or a verdict in their favor.”
White continued his thoughts with in the phone conversation.
“A court of law is a structured, very structured, rule-driven environment. It is the difference between chaos, anarchy and a civilized society,” White said. “We lawyers devote our time and energy and profession to that sanctimonious kingdom of following the rule of law. In this particular instance, that was usurped by way of this settlement.”
Court appearances for Myers, others continued to 2024
Myers remains on administrative leave while his criminal case is pending, according to the district. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 2.
Nall’s next court appearance is also scheduled for Jan. 2. Justin Mecklenburg’s next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 6, and Golbek’s next court date is Jan. 3.
All have pleaded not guilty in their respective cases.