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Former Tarpon Springs High principal sues man who called in 2015 death threat

 
Tarpon Springs High School was the scene of a 2015 incident where Edward S. Ecker called the school to threaten then-principal James M. Joyer. Joyer has filed a lawsuit saying Ecker set in motion a chain of events that harmed his life and career. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Tarpon Springs High School was the scene of a 2015 incident where Edward S. Ecker called the school to threaten then-principal James M. Joyer. Joyer has filed a lawsuit saying Ecker set in motion a chain of events that harmed his life and career. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Sept. 26, 2017

A former Tarpon Springs High principal has sued a man who threatened to come to the school and kill him in 2015, saying the man started a chain of events that harmed his life and career.

James M. Joyer has filed a lawsuit in Pinellas County Circuit Court against Edward S. Ecker for negligence, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit says Joyer, who was principal at Tarpon Springs High from July 2014 to October 2015, was the victim of a "vicious, reckless and unwarranted defamatory and threatening attack" committed by Ecker.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Officials responded passively to death threat at Tarpon Springs High

According to police reports, Ecker called Tarpon Springs High on Sept. 4, 2015 and told Joyer's secretary he was coming to the school to kill the principal over a "personal" issue involving Joyer, Ecker and a woman both of them knew. Ecker said he was going to "f--- Joyer up," the lawsuit states.

However, Joyer responded to the threat by shutting down attempts by a school resource officer to trace the call. And he took none of the key actions that would typically follow a threat to a school, such as a lockdown or a lockout. He later fell from grace, resigning from his post at Tarpon Springs High and taking a pay cut.

Joyer, now the administrator at Clearwater Adult Education Center, is seeking more than $15,000 in damages against Ecker and his companies, Simple Sailing Charters and Ecker Properties. Ecker made the threatening phone call to Joyer using Simple Sailing's phone line.

The lawsuit says Joyer was at the height of his career and was well-respected by staff, faculty, parents and students until the incident with Ecker. It says Ecker's statements to police, which were published in the media, "implied Joyer was a philanderer and adulterer."

The lawsuit alleges Ecker's statements have exposed Joyer to "distrust, hatred, contempt and ridicule, and caused him to be avoided and scorned by his friends, peers, students, parents and colleagues." It says Ecker's comments "irreparably harmed" Joyer's career.

Ecker said in an interview Tuesday he was unaware of the suit, which was filed Sept. 1.

"Sounds ludicrous," he said.

He accused Joyer of misrepresenting the facts and criticized the Tampa Bay Times.

"I believe the newspaper is causing loss of jobs and defamation of character toward me, my businesses, and it's impacted the people around me that benefit from my efforts," he said.

When a school resource officer called Ecker about the incident two years ago, Ecker initially denied that he called the high school. But after the officer told Ecker he was not interested in prosecuting a case, Ecker, according to a report, admitted calling Joyer.

Neither Joyer nor his lawyer returned requests for comment.

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The lawsuit invokes the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, and says Ecker "should have known" his threatening phone call to a school, "would set into motion a course of foreseeable events that would cause harm to third parties."

The day the call was made, the resource officer at Tarpon Springs High said in his report that Joyer's secretary called him "and advised me to hang up the phone and do not pursue this matter any further."

Joyer was suspended five days without pay for failing to follow "threat assessment procedures" after he received word of Ecker's phone call. He also requested a transfer to a lower post and his pay was cut from $91,213 to $74,137.

He now makes $88,178 in his job leading Clearwater Adult Education Center.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.