(CN) – A Tennessee school board refused to discipline four football players who dragged a girl to an unlit area beside the bleachers and sexually assaulted her, parents say in a Federal Court.
The Shelby County Board of Education “has treated the victim as if she were the culprit in being sexually assaulted,” according to the complaint, which uses initials to identify the children involved.
Anthony McLeod and Deidre McLeod say their daughter, K.M., was a 14-year-old student at Arlington Middle School on the night she was attacked, Aug. 26, 2011.
K.M had been standing beside the bleachers, watching a Friday night high school football game refereed by her father, when she was knocked down with a soccer ball.
“After K.M. was forced to the ground, a boy grabbed her arms while another boy grabbed K.M.’s ankles and proceeded to carry her several yards away to an unlit section of the area near the bleachers,” the complaint states.
“K.M., in a state of panic, yelled and screamed for help as a group of boys carried her away into the darkened area out of the sight line of anyone in the bleachers.
“As the boys held K.M. by her arms and ankles, another boy proceeded to unbutton, unzip and lower K.M.’s shorts and underclothing and began to grope and fondle her private areas.
Two of K.M.’s friends, C.L. and S.R., allegedly interrupted the assault and “physically accosted one of the assailants,” scaring the boys away. K.M.’s brother then caught one of the assailants, and held him while the father tracked down a sheriff’s deputy, according to the complaint.
The McLeods say they met resistance when trying to give their statements in the office of Dr. Jeff Cozzens, the Arlington High School principal.
“Dr. Cozzens’ questions, interruptions and suggested additions to K.M. and S.R.’s written statements appeared to be designed by him to minimize and to discount the sexual assault and injury to K.M.,” according to the complaint.
Dr. Cozzens also repeatedly interrupted the deputy sheriff’s interview for the apparent purpose: “to lessen the severity of the conduct of the gang of boys who sexually assaulted K.M.,” the McLeods say.
The sheriff’s deputy allegedly told K.M.’s father that the school usually cordons off the area where his daughter had been attacked because “there had been other assaults and other inappropriate and harmful behavior in that area prior to K.M.’s sexual assault.”
“This history of significant problems was, or should have been, known to authorities of Arlington High School, including Dr. Cozzens as well as the appropriate officials of SCBE,” the complaint states, abbreviating the Shelby County Board of Education.
The McLeods say the four boys who assaulted K.M. all played for the same football team. Three allegedly attended Arlington Middle School with K.M., and one attended Houston Middle School.
Arlington Middle School Principal Allison Clark had the eight students who were present at K.M.’s alleged attack fill out reports on Monday, then refused to take action, according to the complaint.
“While the forms clearly corroborate plaintiffs’ contention that K.M. was sexually and physically assaulted, Principal Clark informed plaintiff Deidre McLeod at approximately 4:00 p.m. on August 29, 2011, that there was no evidence of wrongdoing and that no action would be taken by the school against the assailants,” the McLeods say. “Principal Clark further advised plaintiffs that she would not take any action against the assailants unless and until the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County took action against the assailants.
“While the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County brought juvenile delinquency actions against C.W., T.D., H.M., and A.C. for the sexual assault of K.M., upon information and belief, SCBE has taken no or minimal disciplinary or corrective action against these assailants. To the contrary, as a consequence, C.W., T.D., and A.C. still attended Arlington Middle School, and K.M. was forced to come in contact with her assailants on nearly a daily basis throughout the 2011-2012 school year.”
The McLeods say their daughter has endured harassment, ridicule and bullying since her return to school.
“The sexual assault, as well as the essentially nonexistent reaction to the assault by SCBE and negative reactions by students at Arlington Middle School, has caused K.M. to experience severe emotional, psychological, mental and physical distress and injury,” the complaint states. “K.M. missed 52 days from school during the 2011-2012 school year as a result of the emotional, psychological, mental and physical injuries suffered because of the attack. Additionally, K.M. has withdrawn from her friends. Furthermore, K.M.’s involvement in school and non-school activities has lessened significantly as K.M. sought to distance herself from the assailants as well as the assailants’ friends, who are also students at Arlington Middle School, who have harassed and ridiculed her regarding the sexual assault on her. Significantly, K.M. has not attended a single sporting event at Arlington High School since she was attacked.
K.M. has also allegedly required professional psychological counseling.
“Incredibly, rather than disciplining the assailants, plaintiffs were advised by Hershel Burton from SCBE’s Student Services department that if K.M. felt threatened or harassed, she, not the assailants, could transfer to another school,” according to the complaint. “In other words, SCBE has treated the victim, K.M., as if she were the culprit in being sexually assaulted.”
The McLeods want $5 million in compensatory damages, plus $20 million in punitive damages, for negligence and violation of Title IX, a federal law that proscribes sex-based inequalities in any campus program or activity.
They are represented by Saul Belz with Glankler Brown in Memphis.