Crime

School district failed girl who was sexually assaulted by fellow special needs student, suit says

A family has sued the Clover Park School District, alleging it failed to protect a 16-year-old girl from being attacked by a fellow special needs student.
A family has sued the Clover Park School District, alleging it failed to protect a 16-year-old girl from being attacked by a fellow special needs student. Thinkstockphotos.com

There was a plan for how a 16-year-old student with developmental challenges would get to her Lakewood school each day, her parents say.

The teen took a bus, on which she had an assigned seat. A staff member would meet the bus when it arrived at Lakes High School and take the girl to class.

But the family alleges no one was there to meet the girl when a substitute bus driver got her and other students to school a few minutes early on May 5, 2016.

Instead, another special needs student led the girl to a bathroom in the teacher’s lounge, where he assaulted her, according to a lawsuit the family filed Nov. 20 in Pierce County Superior Court.

They allege the school district knew the boy had been accused of previous sexual assaults, and failed to properly supervise him.

“This was totally avoidable,” said the girl’s father, who is identified in the suit as R.F. “It just makes me so mad.”

Given the sensitive nature of the allegations, the family asked to be identified by their initials.

Contacted by The News Tribune, spokeswoman Kim Prentice said in a statement Monday: “Clover Park School District acknowledges the human error that occurred in this instance despite the policies that were in place. The safety of our students is, and has always been, our number one goal.”

The district is working to reach a settlement, she said.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages against the school district, gives this account:

Surveillance video shows the 15-year-old boy leading the 16-year-old girl, A.F., around the school, checking for open doors as he went.

He ultimately found the faculty break room unlocked, and led the girl inside, into the men’s restroom there.

A staff member went inside the restroom about six minutes later and about 30 seconds after that the video shows the boy leave the bathroom, as he adjusted his pants.

The staff member later told an investigator he heard a high-pitched voice coming from one of the stalls, and that he thought a parent had been helping a child inside, according to a police report.

The staff member said he heard the person in the stall leave, and video shows the adult leave about 10 seconds later.

A minute and a half after that, the footage shows the girl leave the restroom, looking disoriented. She had marks that suggested she’d been choked, such as bruising on her neck, as well as bruising on her jaw and forehead.

The attack also knocked out one of her teeth, which later was found in the bathroom trash can, where she’d thrown it away.

Staff members found A.F. in the lounge, found the boy by a school vending machine, and called the students’ parents when they realized what had happened, according to a police report.

About 200 of the school’s 1,300 students held a protest last year, after a TV news report that alleged sexual assaults at schools in the district, including A.F.’s.

A.F.’s lawsuit is not the first regarding how the district handles students accused of sexual assault.

In 2015, a jury ordered the district to pay $754,000 to a girl who was sexually assaulted by another student in a Lochburn Middle School bathroom.

As part of a settlement, the district agreed to pay $275,000 to another student sexually assaulted by the same boy, after the district transferred the offender to Hudtloff Middle School.

Attorney Loren Cochran’s firm represented the families of those victims, and now represents A.F., who has Down syndrome.

“You’re exposing the most vulnerable kids to the worst possible danger,” Cochran said about the district, in an interview about A.F.’s case. “... They have to be safe at school.”

“It’s especially frustrating,” Cochran said, because Clover Park is responsible for a school at Western State Hospital that educates sexually aggressive students.

The students accused of the assaults in Cochran’s firm’s lawsuits have not been convicted criminally.

In A.F.’s case, prosecutors charged the boy with second-degree assault with sexual motivation. The charge was dismissed after he was found not competent to stand trial.

He also was found incompetent to stand trial for a charge of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, after a staff member saw him, with his pants down, leaving a bathroom stall being used by another student in 2015.

In 2014, the boy was charged with first-degree child molestation, for which he was found not competent to stand trial.

The boy, A.F.’s lawsuit states, “had a history, well-known by the district, of sexual predation on children, including other special needs students.”

After the 2016 attack, he was placed in a different program off campus, according to a police report.

“He should have had someone on him 24/7,” said L.F., the girl’s mother.

A.F. just turned 18, and now lives with her parents in Virginia, where she’s a high school junior. Asked by a reporter if she likes her new school, she nodded.

Her parents say she especially likes music, and had a choir concert recently.

Before the three moved out of state, A.F.’s parents didn’t want her to go back to Lakes, but she insisted. After a few days at home, they agreed she could return.

“She was adamant,” her mother said.

They said they followed her bus to and from school to make sure she was safe.

The first day back, A.F.’s mother said, no one was outside the school to meet her daughter.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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