Editor’s note: This article contains graphic content.
The 19-year-old girl at the heart of the case against Lewisville Independent School District for violating Title IX testified Thursday. The case is going on in federal courtroom at the Chase Bank Building in Sherman with Judge Ron Clark presiding.
The girl’s parents filed the federal suit while she was still a minor, but she has since taken over the case on her own.
The suit alleges that the school violated Title IX by retaliating against the girl for filing the sexual assault and bullying complaints. Title IX law prohibits institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating against anyone based on gender.
The Herald Democrat is not naming the girl involved because alleged victims of sexual assault are generally not named in coverage. The two young men are not being identified because they were juveniles when the alleged incident occurred and they were never charged with any crime related to the incident.
Jurors have now heard from the girl, her mother, and her father. On Thursday the jury also heard from then assistant principal at the 9th grade center who investigated the girl’s allegations and found that there was not a preponderance of evidence to support her claims.
The girl’s family all testified that the staff at Hebron’s 9th Grade Center retaliated against the girl because she made sexual assault allegations against two football players and bullying and cyberbullying complaints against other students.
Attorney Charla Aldous asked the girl to tell the jury about the day after she went to a party back in October 2012. The girl said she noticed blood in her pants. She said she called the boys she later accused of raping her and asked them what happened. She told Aldous the realization that she had been raped left her feeling confused, sad, and “kinda like waking up from a bad dream,” but being stuck in it.
She said she knows she went to school that next week, but she barely remembers it. “I kinda blocked it out,” she said. She said she was told that she had been gang raped and that she deserved it because she had gotten so drunk. She said other people said things like if you don’t want to get raped don’t get drunk. Still others asked her if she were pregnant and how many babies did she think she would have and what race would they be. Testimony in the trial has said two boys, one black and one Latino admitted to having sex with her but said it was consensual.
“People were saying horrible things. I (was) told to kill myself. I was called a whore,” the girl testified about the kinds of taunts she faced that week back at school after the sexual assault.
She said she originally confided in the mother of a cheerleading friend because if she told her own mother, it would make the whole thing “that much more real.”
She said before the party and everything that happened after, she had loved school. “I was a really social person,” she said before adding that she isn’t anymore. She said she really wanted to go to Hebron High School and had worked very hard to be on the cheer team at the 9th grade center. But all of that came crashing down after the party.
Going to school became a dread instead of something she looked forward to each day. “I would beg and plead (to stay home),” she said. She added that, “being raped was bad but the bullying heightened it — made it ten times worse,” she said.
The girl said the other mother who she had confided in approached her mom at a football game and told her mother what had happened.
“That was not the right place and time,” the girl said.
She said she really doesn’t remember a lot of what happened after that with her parents because her brain shut down.
She said she thought the home bound status that she was in would be temporary until the school finished its investigation into what happened at the party and then she would get to go back to her life. She said even though she tried to have faith, as the time wore on and the district continued to allow the boys to go to school, she began to have a feeling that things were not going to work out for her at Hebron.
Hurt and mad
She said she was crushed when found out the grand jury had declined to indict the boys and then that the school district concluded that they couldn’t find a preponderance of evidence to support her allegations of sexual assault and she, “was crushed, really sad.” Then that sadness turned to anger, she said. She she felt like no one wanted to help her.
“I lost a lot of respect for myself,” she said. She is still, she said, kinda mad.
“Kinda?” Aldous questioned.
She answered that it was all like taking another blow to the stomach.
“I had the most faith in the school,” she said. She said that was why the school not believing her hurt the most.
She said she thought for sure the school was going to give her some peace and some justice and then when that didn’t happen, she felt like, “it was just easier to boot me out and forget about it.”
She said she wouldn’t advise anyone to send their kids to that school after her experience there.
When asked why she filed the lawsuit, the girl said she felt like most of the trauma she has suffered over the came from the bullying after the sexual assault.
Agreeing that she had, in the past few years, gone back and forth in her support of the lawsuit that her parents filed on her behalf, the girl said sometimes she would get tired of fighting it all. She said she would get down on herself. But then, she said, she would realize, “I deserve more. I deserve to be treated with a level of respect as a human being.”
She said a couple of years ago she would not have been strong enough to sit in a courtroom and listen to what other people had to say about the incidents that so impacted her life. But she feels that she is at a place where she can do that now.
Her main goal, she said, has been to get justice for herself.
Who retaliated and how?
Attorney Tom Brandt, who represents the school district, started his questioning of the young woman by asking her how she wanted him to address her? He wanted to know if she wanted to be called by her first name or by her last name with the courtesy title Miss. The young woman picked the later and seemed to sit up a bit taller and straighter after telling him so.
Then he asked her about a number of doctors and therapists she had seen over the past few years. He asked her if she had told all of those people the truth? When she didn’t seem to understand his question, he said he wanted to know if she felt what was contained in the medical records from those people contained the truth so that he wouldn’t have to ask her to go over all of them. After a few rounds with that question, she agreed with him. He then asked her who at Hebron she thought had retaliated against her and how they did so.
She named guidance counselor Debra Whitehead, Coach Brian Brazil and then-Assistant Principal Amanda Werneke.
When Brandt asked her what Coach Brazil had done to retaliate against her, the girl said she had six people tell her that the coach told the football players to get their stories straight.
The school’s investigation
While the girl talked about the people who she thinks failed her at Hebron, Werneke, the assistant principle who led the investigations into the girl’s allegations about the sexual assault sat at the school’s counsel table.
Werneke, who is now the principal at the Hebron 9th grade center, also testified Thursday. She said she had a lot of people looking over her shoulder during that investigation and she was happy for the resources that afforded her. She said she had to wait until the district got the OK from the police department to start her investigation. When she did, she said, she couldn’t find enough evidence to support the allegation that the girl had been sexually assaulted.
Werneke said the only people they could ask about the party and what happened there were the students who had gone and their statements about it varied wildly. She said some students reported that the girl was completely intoxicated while others said she was pretending to be more intoxicated than she was actually.
Aldous asked how she could possibly find that the girl hadn’t been sexually assaulted when a number of people said the girl, who was only 14 at the time, was drunk at the time two boys had sex with her. Aldous said the district had talked to at least one girl who said one of the boys said he had to shove his sexual organ into the girl’s mouth while the other boy was having sex with her.
Werneke repeated, a number of times, that the boys in question were never charged by the police and that a grand jury declined to indict them for any wrong doing at that party. While she did admit that the district failed to do a Title IX investigation into the parent’s original bullying claim, Werneke said they did all that they could for the family in light of the fact that the girl never returned to school. The girl, Aldous asserted, never returned to school because the boys who allegedly assaulted her were there. Werneke said the boys were never charged with a crime. She said the school couldn’t do anything to make them leave the school. Both of the boys were on the football team, which was bound by the extracurricular code of conduct, Aldous reminded Werneke. Under that set of rules drinking, even off campus, could get a student expelled. Previous testimony revealed that both boys denied drinking when asked by their coach.
Aldous asked Werneke how the school treated the girl at the heart of the trial will impact the way other young girls think about reporting future sexual assaults? She said her client seemed to get the short end of the stick all of the way through the investigation and that might do exactly what Title IX is supposed to guard against and discourage victims of assault from coming forward.
Werneke said she thinks that would depend upon who those future victims talk to about what happened. The two women then spent a good deal of time going over the requirements for an investigation under Title IX. Aldous said the law is specific in that the district can’t wait to see the outcome of the law enforcement investigation into an alleged assault before beginning its own. And Werneke said that they aren’t even allowed to use any of the evidence that the police gather for the school’s investigation. Aldous asked if the school allowed the outcome of the police investigation to influence the outcome of its investigation. Werneke said they did not.
The investigation into the sexual assault, Werneke said, came down to an issue of consent. If the girl gave her consent to the sex, then it wasn’t sexual assault. She said she couldn’t find enough evidence to prove, by a preponderance of facts, that the girl didn’t give her consent.
Aldous asked her if that shouldn’t have been the other way around: Surly the school wasn’t asking the girl to prove that she didn’t give consent? Surly, she said, the boys should have to prove that they had consent.
The attorney and the principal danced around and around the issue of consent. Finally, Werneke said, “I don’t know what happened that night.”
Aldous again asked if an intoxicated 14-year-old can even give consent, and Werneke said it would depend up on the level of intoxication. She said the other kids said different things. Some said the girl was acting flirty and seemed to be having a good time. Others, including one of the boys who was accused, said she was totally drunk. That boy said she was the drunkest person he had ever seen.
Werneke said it was hard to even determine how long the party had lasted, let alone how drunk individual attendees were.
Then Aldous asked her about the allegation that one of the boys who alleged to have attacked the girl at the party wore the same shorts that he had worn that night to school the next Monday. He was alleged to have told people that the blood belonged to the girl who accused him of attacking her and said it was her virgin blood. How, Aldous questioned, could that not be considered sexual harassment?
Werneke said she had not heard those allegations at the time of her investigation. She agreed that if the assault happened, it would be sexual harassment. Aldous asked if just the statement, regardless of the truth of the matter about the attack, weren’t sexual harassment, and Werneke agreed it was.
Werneke then testified that not only did her investigation not support the girl’s allegations about the sexual assault, but her separate investigation into the bullying the girl and her family complained of didn’t result in any findings of guilt either. When Aldous expressed incredulity at that, Werneke explained that she did find some of the things that were said about the girl were horrible and hurtful but the statements were made during the Christmas break and not on school grounds.
Werneke cried on the stand when asked how it felt to hear that the family didn’t think she did enough for their daughter. She said in her 15 years of teaching, she probably never spent as much time on student as did on the girl at the heart of the case. She said she knew the girl was hurting and the family was frustrated but she had to follow the rules she was given.
The case will resume Friday morning but is only expected to go through lunch. Attorneys have said the case should go to the jury sometime early next week.