Parent sues Hart District over response to alleged rape

Valencia High School. Dan Watson/The Signal
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A lawsuit alleging a sexual assault and subsequent Title IX violations has been filed against the William S. Hart Union High School District, naming multiple school officials who are or were at Valencia High at the time of the allegations.

The lawsuit alleges an intentional infliction of emotional distress stemming from events that allegedly occurred during a Valencia High football game Oct. 5, 2018.

Ultimately, the victim left the Hart District after receiving money from a victims compensation fund administered by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which helped move the alleged victim and her family outside of the district. However, the District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges with respect to the alleged assault. 

A spokesman for the Hart District said Tuesday that district and school staff could not comment on pending litigation, citing district policy.

General Allegations

The lawsuit states, “A 14-year-old minor and freshman at Valencia High School in the William S. Hart Union High School District was drugged and sexually assaulted in and around the bleachers.”

The claimant who, along with her mother, spoke with The Signal this week, alleged she was with a boy trying to find a friend prior to the alleged assault.

“After returning from the restroom and sipping her beverage, (the alleged victim) began to feel nauseous, dizzy and unable to concentrate and repeatedly told ( the defendant) that she felt sick,” the lawsuit states. “The last clear memory (the minor) had was of the defendant kissing her and grinding up against her as she told him ‘no,’ and pushed him away.”

The alleged victim would later tell school officials her memory was “a little foggy” after kissing and touching with the boy, according to a response from Valencia High officials’ investigation into the incident. 

In January, the girl was at a school dance when her friend mentioned another friend was having problems with the same boy, she said Thursday. 

Two days later, the plaintiff received a message from the alleged assailant, according to the lawsuit, “wherein he admitted that he had had sex with plaintiff minor … while she ‘was drunk.’”

“It was at that time that (the plaintiff’s) fragmentary memories plus (the defendant’s) admission that he had had sex with her while she was incapacitated made her realize that she had been sexually assaulted by him,” the lawsuit states. The plaintiff and a few friends then reported the alleged sexual assault to two VHS vice principals on Jan. 30, 2019.

Documents obtained by The Signal from the alleged victim indicate a Valencia High administrator contacted the school resource officer “to inform him that there may be a case of sexual assault and to be ready to come to the campus if needed,” but the lawsuit disputed this report. 

“Instead of contacting the school resource officer as the district is obligated to do, the district defendants decided that there had been ‘no accusation’ because (the victim) had truthfully responded that she had no clear memory of what happened after (the defendant) was kissing her as she tried to push him away,” the lawsuit states. “And defendants (two Valencia High administrators), acting within the course of their employment and agency, completely ignored the evidence of (the defendant’s) text message corroborating the incident.”

Failure to respond

After attempting to contact the school resource officer herself and filing a report with the SCV Sheriff’s Station when she discovered the school hadn’t yet, the plaintiff’s mother said she also wrote a letter to school officials around Feb. 3, informing the district about its Title IX obligations and how the defendant’s mother “had accosted my daughter with a proposal that she say nothing about the incident and that they were prepared to do anything to keep their son out of trouble.”

“I kept being told by the school: ‘Oh. we need to wait to see what the investigation holds,’ but Title IX specifically states that a criminal investigation doesn’t relieve the school of its duty to report and keep my daughter safe,” the mother said. “Why should I have to tell the Title IX coordinator what Title IX states?”

On Feb. 5, the family would get in contact with a Special Victims Unit detective.

The plaintiff’s mother said charges weren’t filed because the district attorney didn’t want to put the daughter in a trying situation that could result in anything other than a conviction and jail time. Officials with the Special Victims Unit were unable to comment on the case and files because the suspect was a minor.

A Sheriff’s Department official confirmed a case was presented March 4 to the District Attorney’s Office, but as the case involved two minors, the official was unable to cite any specifics or details of the investigation. 

After the filing 

The family received state assistance to relocate as a result of the alleged assault and they believe there’s still a case because the school failed to fulfill its Title IX requirements.

Upon receiving notice that the plaintiff and friends could have been sexually abused or harassed by the defendant, the district should have taken action to restrict the defendant’s access and interactions with plaintiff or other vulnerable minors, the lawsuit states. Despite the authority and ability to do so, the district defendants negligently or willfully refused to inhibit or obstruct such abuse, according to the suit.

And as a result, the lawsuit adds, “The district defendants’ conduct made it a virtual certainty that plaintiff and other minors would be victimized.”

The plaintiff said Wednesday she hesitated to report the incident to the school because she was afraid of what others might think, and she feared she’d be “slut-shamed” by her peers.

“It created a bunch of negative energy around the school,” she told The Signal. “It was really scary hearing guys yell: ‘Watch out! You’re going to get her sloppy seconds,’ or ‘We all know you really wanted to be with (the assailant).’ I cried in the bathroom a lot, and I would even get mean notes in class from people I didn’t really know.”

The plaintiff added she went to report the acts of bullying to school leaders but said she was warned to stop coming by the office so often, which had her scared that she’d be embarrassingly thrown out by the school resource officer. 

Within weeks, the plaintiff’s mother said she noticed her child’s grades dropped dramatically in multiple classes, “so the situation was certainly affecting her schoolwork.”

“I didn’t want to be here,” the plaintiff said. “I was scared when I’d be walking home, so I started taking different paths home so nobody would see.”

“She paid a heavy price simply because the school failed to take appropriate actions,” attorney Michael Kade said. The lawsuit also noted the school was in the process of applying for a California Distinguished Schools application, and that suspending the defendant could have jeopardized the district’s ability to receive the prestigious award and the benefits that ensue.

The district and administrators’ inaction led to eight face-to-face interactions between the alleged assailant and victim before the mother was able to receive a restraining order from a Chatsworth judge in March, the lawsuit states.

“I would still see him in passing on campus,” the plaintiff said. “I had super bad anxiety every day. It was super stressful, because I know people are talking about me now, and I couldn’t take the stress. I couldn’t take people calling me names … People calling me a ‘hoe.’ People calling me a ‘whore.’ That put me over the edge, so I felt I couldn’t stay here.”

The plaintiff would go on to miss multiple days of school in the month of April, and the mother said the school never reached out to see why she wasn’t attending or if her daughter was OK.

“Had defendants adequately reported the sexual abuse and harassment of plaintiff and other minors as required by California Penal Code section 11166, further harm to plaintiff would have been avoided,” the lawsuit states. “Here, school officials knew about the harassment and assault but did so little about it that their response amounted to ‘deliberate indifference,’ (and the) plaintiff is therefore entitled to the recovery of punitive damages in an amount to be determined by the court.”

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified punitive damages from the Hart District. The next hearing date for the lawsuit is Dec. 23, 2020.

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