Jury rules in favor of CMS in Myers Park High sexual assault Title IX case
A jury ruled Friday that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools did not violate the Title IX civil rights of a former Myers Park High student who sued and said the school system didn't protect her after a 2015 sexual assault.
After about three hours of deliberation, the jury of six men and two women said that they did not believe the school system acted with "deliberate indifference" in their handling of the case — a requirement for finding CMS liable.
The verdict capped a four-day-long trial that featured hours of emotional, often graphic testimony from Jane Doe, her parents and another student, as well as depositions and testimony from Myers Park High administrators. The case has been in litigation for years.
"We are grateful that the jury reached their decision after hearing all of the evidence," a CMS spokesperson said in a statement Friday night.
Although the jury found CMS did not violate Doe’s Title IX rights, they did agree on some of the issues, said Linda Bailey, one of Doe’s attorneys.
"They found that she was sexually harassed and that it was severe and pervasive," Bailey told reporters outside of the courthouse. "So even at the end of the day, even with CMS not being held accountable, we still know that jury believed her. That’s really what she wanted from the start."
Doe’s team had sought damages of $1 million. Even though they won no money, Dunn said Jane Doe still left with the feeling of accomplishment.
"I want her to sit with the fact that she was believed," Dunn said. "It’s the first time she’s had that feeling in seven years."
Federal Judge Robert Conrad on Thursday dismissed claims against the city of Charlotte, which employed the school resource officer whose response was at the center of the case.
Lawyers representing CMS and the city argued that Jane Doe and her parents did not cooperate with the investigation or provide reports that would have helped the school system and police investigate. The defense argued CMS did the best it could, given that Doe never gave them a statement.
Jane Doe's legal team said that the school system had brushed off her reported attack and failed to properly investigate. Jane Doe transferred schools after the incident, and although the male student involved was suspended for 10 days, the school system concluded their encounter had been consensual. The male student's suspension was later reduced to four days after the encounter was deemed consensual.
Laura Dunn argued that Assistant Principal Anthony Perkins unnecessarily changed the school report to a consensual encounter, which then placed blame on Doe. She said that Perkins determined his decision with information from everyone but the victim.
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Jane Doe was a 17-year-old junior on the morning of Nov. 3, 2015. That's when she left campus at about 7 a.m. with an 18-year-old male student and walked to an area known to students as "the bamboo forest," about a mile from Myers Park High.
Doe testified that she was romantically and sexually inexperienced. She said that the male student, with whom she had been exchanging flirtatious and sometimes sexual text messages, forced her to perform oral sex on him.
“I kept telling him I didn’t want to do this,” she said on the witness stand Thursday, her voice breaking. “I kept looking to see if someone was coming and I didn’t see anyone coming.”
“I still beat myself up because I didn’t yell for help, but it was so embarrassing and humiliating and I wanted my mom,” she said.
Doe's attorney said she 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 after the assault.
Although Doe texted friends and her mother that she was being "kidnapped," CMS officials said they concluded the case was not sexual assault because they didn't find evidence force had been used.
Doe testified that in the years after the incident, she had suffered from depression, nightmares about the attack and suicidal thoughts.
Lawyers for CMS questioned Doe's mother about why she didn't have her daughter give a statement about the incident.
Terry Wallace, representing CMS, cross-examined Doe. He noted times when Doe could have asked for help, including when fellow students walked up during the alleged attack.
He also noted that CMS suspended the male student while the district investigated the incident and reassigned him so he wouldn’t be in the same class or lunch period with Doe when he returned.
But Doe never returned to Myers Park High, and her parents broke off communication with school administrators, according to testimony.