An independent hearing officer has overturned the eight-month suspension of Russell County High baseball coach and teacher Tony Rasmus.
The ruling is the latest in a nearly year-long legal saga that started after Rasmus was accused of choking one of his players on Feb. 16, 2021.
It is unknown when or if Rasmus will return to work at the school. That could be decided soon, however.
“At this point, the school board can either allow him to come back and teach or they can appeal it to the Court of Civil Appeals, and it will go up there and we will continue to fight it,” said James McKoon, Rasmus’ lawyer.
In October, a jury found Rasmus not guilty of third-degree assault in the case – the verdict a county judge handed down in a June bench trial. The jury did find Rasmus guilty of a lesser charge of harassment.
In a written order last week, Rasmus was sentenced to 30 days in jail (though that was suspended in favor of an unsupervised, 12-month probation), a $500 fine, a $100 payment to the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission and completion of an anger management program.
McKoon said the $500 fine was reduced to $50 on Friday after an appeal.
“I believe my client,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 44 years. I could be wrong, but I believe in him. I think he’s right, and I think this has been silly from the beginning.”
Following the October trial, Russell County superintendent Brenda Coley recommended Rasmus be fired. However, the school board rejected the request in favor of a suspension without pay until June 30. On Friday, retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts reversed that suspension.
Where does the case go now?
“It is my understanding the school board will have a meeting Tuesday night and maybe they will decide what they want to do,” McKoon said. “I’m not going to press for him to go back to work on Monday. I’ll give them the opportunity to decide what they want to do. But until that order is either stayed or overturned, the suspension is no longer in place, and he is entitled to go back to his job. That is my interpretation of it anyway.”
Rasmus burst into the limelight by coaching a Phenix City Little League team to a runner-up finish in the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Penn., in 1999.
As the head coach at Russell County, he led the Warriors to more than 400 wins and the 2005 Class 5A state championship. He then left for Florence in 2014 and led the Falcons to 25 wins and the 6A playoffs.
Rasmus left Florence after one year to return to Russell County and consistently fields one of the state’s top baseball programs.
“They (the Russell County school board) will have to decide if they want to keep pouring money to take this to the court of civil appeals,” McKoon said. “What would be even better would be if they would sit down and talk to us and just come to some sort of compromise and work this out so this man can finish up his career.”
Rasmus, who has 590 career wins, released this statement to AL.com.
“You know, while being tough for sure, choking people has never been a coaching strategy of mine over the years. This was a personal witch hunt by a wealthy family who didn’t like their son being removed from a game. Phenix City used to be one of the most corrupt cities in Alabama. Not much has changed.”
Coley did not immediately respond to a Friday email seeking comment on the situation.