By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California couple who said their teenage daughter killed herself after classmates shared a photo of her being sexually assaulted filed a legal claim against school officials, who denied the girl ever reported being bullied.
Saying school administrators mishandled their daughter's bullying complaints, the parents of Audrie Pott filed a government claim that preserves their right to take future legal action against the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District, their lawyer, Robert Allard, said on Wednesday.
The school district denied on Wednesday that Pott, who committed suicide in September at age 15, had ever reported being bullied before or after the alleged sexual battery that resulted in charges against three boys from her school.
On Monday, her parents filed a wrongful-death suit against the three 16-year-old boys, accusing them 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.
She took her own life days later, sending shock waves through her hometown of Saratoga, an affluent northern California community near San Jose.
Her parents say she was driven to suicide after learning that a photograph showing one of the boys violating her had been circulated at school, along with other photos and electronic communications falsely suggesting she had been a willing participant.
The three boys were arrested last week on criminal charges of sexual assault by digital penetration and of distributing a photo of a minor in sexual positions - both felonies.
The local sheriff said the boys, described by Pott's parents as onetime friends of their daughter, also faced misdemeanor charges of inappropriate touching.
Pott's parents have said the assault was a culmination of bullying she had endured from classmates since entering high school.
In the government claim they filed with the school district in March, they accused the district of failing to document a meeting with administrators the previous spring about the bullying of their daughter at Saratoga High School, Allard said.
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.
But the school district issued a lengthy statement disputing the parents' assertions.
"Since her death, we have thoroughly examined our counseling records and interviewed our staff to see if there were any warning signs or indications that Audrie was being bullied or harassed at school," the district said. That review, it said, "showed that she never reported or sought counseling for bullying before or after the alleged sexual assault."
The district also said that since Pott's accused attackers were criminally charged, their parents have agreed that the boys would not return to campus until the case is resolved. "If they are found guilty, then expulsion could occur," it added.
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."
Allard said on Wednesday that his office would continue to investigate the district's potential liability for Pott's death and bring a civil lawsuit if enough evidence supports it.
(Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Von Ahn)