Former McClatchy High student plans to sue district over alleged gang rape
A former McClatchy High School student alleges she was drugged and gang-raped by classmates at a party two years ago.
Now, she's planning to sue the Sacramento City Unified School District for mishandling an investigation and discouraging her from pursuing recourse.
She initially filed a claim for damages in July with the district, alleging that school officials and a Sacramento Police Department officer working as a campus resource officer sent her home for the semester while allowing the suspects to remain on campus undisciplined.
That claim was rejected for procedural reasons and the alleged victim is preparing litigation with a civil rights organization.
Now an 19-year-old graduate, she says the district never gave her information as a 17-year-old student about her civil rights or told her she had the right to press criminal charges against the boys. She also says the district didn't provide resources or support services.
"The district cannot comment on pending litigation," said district spokesman Alex Barrios.
According to court documents, she was at a party on May 21, 2016 when she was drugged and raped by two other McClatchy students while unconscious. She said a former friend helped the boys.
Friends told the girl that the perpetrators took a video of her passed out on the bed without pants. They passed around a video with a caption that read, "It's wild tonight" or something to that effect, according to her court declaration. The boys continued to harass her and show the video to other students when she returned to school the following week, according to the declaration.
"I felt embarrassed and disgusted," she said in the declaration.
The victim was called into the office of school resource officer Joe Brown after another student reported the rape to school officials three days later. He asked a series of questions, including whether she was a virgin before the incident, according to court documents. A school center support person also was in the room.
"That question made me feel so bad," she said. "I felt like maybe that meant that it wasn't as big a deal to him. I told the truth, but I felt afterward like I should have lied because then he would have taken it more seriously."
Brown reportedly wrote down the boys' names and details of the rape, including the names of witnesses. The victim told him about the video, harassing phone calls and on-campus bullying she faced since the alleged rape. The officer assured her that he would investigate, she said.
A police report was filed about the incident in May, according to Eddie Macaulay, Sacramento Police Department spokesman. He wouldn't say whether Brown filed the report.
Macaulay said the incident was investigated and no arrests were made. He said he couldn't provide additional details about the report because of the pending litigation and nature of the case.
Brown is no longer a school resource officer at McClatchy High School, though he is still a Sacramento Police officer, according to district spokeswoman Maria Lopez.
Brown could not be reached directly for comment. Macaulay forwarded The Bee's interview request to Brown, but said the officer wouldn't be able to comment because of the pending litigation and because the case involved allegations of sexual abuse of a juvenile.
Soon after the incident was reported, the student, her mother and grandmother – who had been called to McClatchy High – reportedly were escorted off campus and told the girl should not return to school until the following semester. The family was told that students were talking about the incident and that the girl's presence was distracting, according to the claim.
The school district violated state and federal law requiring full and equal access to education when it asked the victim to leave school for the rest of the semester, said Jennifer Reisch, legal director for Equal Rights Advocates, a nonprofit civil rights organization that is working on the case.
The family also complained that school administrators didn't keep their promise to freeze her grades, resulting in her having to go to each of her teachers to tell her story and plead her case. She ultimately made up some classes in summer school.
When she returned to McClatchy in fall 2016, she encountered her alleged rapists every day, according to the claim. She said she also had to attend class with the former friend who helped the boys rape her and discouraged her from reporting the rape.
"When I returned to school for my senior year, the boys and their friends harassed and bullied me, spreading rumors about me, bragging about having sex with me, calling me a slut and a liar, laughing at me and making fun of me, and staring at me in the hallways and classrooms," she said.
The claim said the district obstructed her mother from efforts to file complaints or criminal charges. "Each time school staff rebuffed, ignored or misled her," stated the claim. School staff told her that Brown, a Sacramento police officer, would decide whether criminal charges would be filed, according to the claim.
In a letter to the district, Equal Rights Advocates attorney Maha H.M. Ibrahim said the school district abdicated their legal duties by delegating all responsibility for investigating the matter to a school resource officer who had no training on Title IX or on policies regarding sexual harassment or sexual assault.
The mother said she went to the district office in October or November 2016 to complain and was interviewed by a woman, who took notes and said she would look into it. She felt a complaint had been filed with the district.
In the meantime, the victim continued to receive harassing and threatening phone calls and texts from two blocked numbers and numbers she did not recognize, even after her graduation, according to court documents.
In June 2016, she attempted suicide. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to court documents. She had to quit her job as a hostess at a restaurant, which she relied on to support her family.
She began to miss classes, projects and assignments. She went from a B average to mostly Ds and Fs, according to court documents.
The case illustrates the lasting impact that sexual violence can have on a student's ability to get an education and highlights how schools have the responsibility to address it, Reisch said.
"We hope to achieve some positive change through this lawsuit," she said.
On Feb. 13, attorneys for the woman filed a petition with Sacramento Superior Court asking to waive a state law requiring that claims with a government agency be filed within a year. The victim's complaint was filed with the school district 14 months after the alleged rape and rejected because it was two months late.
The petition to waive the time requirement is scheduled to be heard in Sacramento Superior Court on March 21. The school district told the court this month that it opposes the waiver.
The family will file suit regardless of whether the court agrees to the waiver, Reisch said. The waiver, if approved, allows lawyers to seek remedies for their clients based on facts from the entire period relevant to the claim, instead of just the year before the claim was filed, according to Reisch.
It's unclear how much the family is asking for, but court documents say the amount is expected to exceed $10,000.