It was a case that received national attention: The violent sexual assault of a mentally-disabled black teenager inside the Dietrich High School locker room by white teammates. Thursday afternoon, a $10 million civil suit filed by the victim's family against the school district claiming the district could have done more to prevent the assault, got underway in federal court.
Judge B. Lynn Winmill heard arguments from both sides Thursday afternoon. The family says the school district allowed a culture of racial bias to flourish, culminating in this attack. Meanwhile, the district says prior reports of harassment ended with a changeover in school leadership, which predates this attack.
At the center of Thursday’s proceedings, an affidavit from a former secondary principal at Dietrich High School, who said just five years prior to the locker room incident there was the same kind of conduct going on at Dietrich High School. The victim’s attorney, Kevin Parker, said in court that this established a culture at the school.
“In 2009 and 2010 and he had observed exactly the same kind of conduct that was going on here in our case five years before and he complained to the school board about it and they told him to be quite about it,” Parker said.
The school district’s attorneys argued that the testimony of the former principal, identified only as Mr. Hancey, should be thrown out for a number of reasons, including because it’s a “waste of time,” and because it covers events that have not been linked to the locker room incident. The district’s attorneys declined to speak with KTVB, but argued in court that none of the school's administrators in 2009 were still in those positions in 2015.
However, the family’s attorney states what the school district knew in 2009, they still knew in 2015.
“It was a course of conduct, yes and it started back in 2010" said Parker. "Mr. Hancey established the culture of harassment and tells us it was going on then and then here five years later we see exactly the same kind of thing happening."
Parker also said there were several incidents from name calling to a fist fight between the victim and John Howard, one of the defendants in the criminal case, that lead up to the assault.
“Starting from that very first football camp, he was humped then, he got in that boxing match where he was beaten up terribly," Parker said. "There's evidence that he had his pants taken off in the back of the bus."
In order to be in violation of Title IX, official must knowingly not do anything about harassment. The victim’s attorney says the football coach knew about some of the events that took place and failed to do anything. However, the district’s attorneys argue that although that football coach should have done something about it and was “negligent,” he should not be considered an official for the district. The attorneys say he is not certified and only works part-time at the school.
The victim’s attorney disagrees.
“Look at the Dietrich [School District] policy and it says that any personnel who has students under their charge has the power to impose discipline,” Parker said.
Both sides of the civil case will be back in court once the judge makes a decision.
The criminal cases for the assault wrapped up earlier this year. Two of the teenagers were tried as juveniles and their cases were sealed. The other defendant, John Howard, received no jail time.