Family of dead California teen files claim against school district

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 17, 2013 7:02 PM
Family of dead California teen files claim against school district

(Editor's Note: This story contains material that may upset some readers)

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California teen's parents who said she killed herself after classmates passed around a photo of her being sexually assaulted have filed a legal claim against school administrators, accusing them of mishandling their daughter's bullying complaints.

The government claim, while not a lawsuit, was filed on Tuesday to preserve the right of the parents of Audrie Pott, who committed suicide last September at age 15, to take future legal action against the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District, family attorney Robert Allard said.

Allard said on Wednesday his office would continue to investigate the district's potential liability for Pott's death and bring a full-fledged civil lawsuit if enough evidence were gathered to support it.

On Monday, Pott's parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against three 16-year-old boys accused of sexually assaulting their daughter and scribbling vulgar markings on her body while she was passed out from drinking during a Labor Day weekend party at a friend's home.

The parents said she was driven to take her own life days later from the humiliation of learning that a photo taken by one of her attackers in the act of violating her had been circulated at school, along with other photos and electronic communications falsely suggesting she had been a willing participant.

According to the lawsuit, Pott awoke the morning after the party to realize she had been assaulted. Nine days later, she was dead of complications from hanging. The family has said it took months to piece together events that led to her death.

Three boys described by Potts' parents as having been longtime friends of their daughter were arrested last week on suspicion of sexual assault by digital penetration and of distributing a photo of a minor in sexual positions - both felonies. The local sheriff said each boy also faces a misdemeanor count of inappropriate touching.

Lawyers for the three defendants, whose names have been kept confidential because they are minors, issued a statement last week saying their clients should be "regarded as innocent" and criticizing news reports on the case as inaccurate.

In their latest filing, Pott's parents have said the school district failed to document a meeting they had with school administrators a year ago regarding bullying of their daughter at Saratoga High School, located in the northern California town of the same name near San Jose. Family members have said Pott was picked on by peers since entering high school.

The parents also cited a number of instances in which they claimed the school district mishandled its reaction to their daughter's suicide and ensuing death investigation, including its refusal to expel the three boys accused in the case.

"Sadly, the district has repeatedly placed the interests of Audrie and her family well behind its own," Allard said.

A district representative said it had no immediate comment on the filing.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)