In Title IX trial, lawyers argue different accounts of 2015 Myers Park sexual encounter
Lawyers for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the city of Charlotte and a former Myers Park High School student outlined clashing accounts Tuesday of the 2015 encounter outside the school that led them all to federal court more than seven years later.
All agree that two students left school early on the morning of Nov. 3, 2015, and went to the woods near campus. Lawyers for the female student, who was 17 at the time and is being identified as Jane Doe, say her 18-year-old male classmate coerced her to leave and forced her to perform oral sex on him. They say administrators at Myers Park High and the school resource officer, who worked for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, believed the male student, who said they had skipped class together and the sexual act was voluntary.
In an opening statement, lawyer Geraldine Sumter told a jury of six men and two women about a series of text messages sent to friends and her parents, starting shortly after the two left school together a bit after 7 a.m. Those texts went on for almost an hour. In those texts, Sumter said, Doe said she was being kidnapped and asked them to send help. She said Doe was traumatized by the failure of Officer Bradley Leak, Principal Mark Bosco and Assistant Principal Anthony Perkins to believe her account or protect her from harm.
Sumter said the plaintiff’s team will present testimony that there had been two previous reports of sexual assaults by male students against female ones in the woods near the school. The lawsuit alleges that officials violated Doe’s rights under Title IX of the federal civil rights law to be kept safe from sexual harassment and assault.
“Tell Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that they failed. They did not protect her,” Sumter told the jury.
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Lori Keeton, representing the city, said that account omits important parts of the story, such as text messages between the two students for days before Nov. 3. She said Doe expressed “curiosity about sex” to the young man but wanted to be his girlfriend and trust him before that happened. On the morning of the encounter, Keeton said, Doe texted the male student her location on the sprawling campus and walked off with him.
Keeton said Officer Leak was directing traffic when he saw the two apparently walking off campus and called to Doe by name, saying “I see you. As soon as I finish here, I’m going to call your mother.” Doe did not react, Keeton said, and Leak assumed she had returned to class.
Keeton also said that even after Doe texted friends to say the male student had kidnapped her, she responded to their queries about whether she was in danger by saying “he’s just talking.” Leak and Perkins eventually located the two leaving a wooded area near Hassell Place, almost a mile from campus. Keeton said Doe told Leak afterward that they’d had oral sex and she did not say no but “felt uncomfortable” about the encounter.
Keeton described Leak as an experienced police officer who had been working in schools for about 10 years at that time. She said he consulted with two members of the CMPD sexual assault unit and the supervisor of school resource officers, all of whom said there was no sexual assault if force wasn’t used.
Terry Wallace, a lawyer for CMS, said in opening arguments that the two prior cases Doe’s lawyers talked about had no connection to her case and happened closer to campus. He said Perkins, the assistant principal, tried to get a statement from Doe immediately after the incident but her mother insisted on taking her to the emergency room instead.
Wallace said once Perkins and Bosco realized there was a possibility of a sexual assault, the male student was suspended for 10 days while they investigated, and he was reassigned so he would not be in a class or lunch period with Doe when he returned. But three days later, Doe’s mother said Doe would not make a statement to the school and asked the administrators for help getting her transferred to South Mecklenburg High, Wallace said. At that point, he said, the male student’s suspension was lifted.
Plaintiffs began calling witnesses Tuesday afternoon. Judge Robert Conrad told jurors the trial is expected to last about a week.