Texas School Police Accused of Mishandling Sex-Assault Reports

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The parents of a 4-year-old Texas girl who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a teacher claim the Austin Independent School District doesn’t do enough to investigate reports of sexual misconduct at its schools.

The parents of minor Jane Doe sued the Austin Independent School District, its police chief Eric Mendez and detective Alex Phillips in Austin federal court on Tuesday, alleging Title IX violations.

According to the complaint, AISD and its police department “collectively and in concert had a policy, whether formal or informal, of failing to adequately investigate and respond to incidents of reported sexual assault.” The mother and father accuse the school district of being “deliberately indifferent” to such incidents.

Doe’s parents say Phillips is a “common thread” in the allegedly inadequate sexual assault investigations.

“Detective Phillips routinely concludes such investigations very quickly without charges against perpetrators,” they claim.

Phillips allegedly does not have any specialized training in sexual assault or sexual misconduct investigation. Despite this, he is routinely assigned to investigate sex crimes for the school district, the parents say.

According to the complaint, Doe was enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program at AISD’s Boone Elementary for the 2016-2017 school year.

Doe’s mother picked her up from school on Feb. 7, and later that day she found the child in distress in the restroom.

The mother says she saw that Doe’s panties were blood-soaked and that there was severe bruising and bleeding to her genital area.

Doe’s mother tried contacting her teacher through phone and email but received no response from the teacher, according to the lawsuit.

The girl was taken to a children’s hospital at 6:30 p.m. that night. Following an evaluation by a trauma surgeon, Doe had surgery to repair vaginal lacerations and also had testing for sexually transmitted infection.

After her surgery, the trauma surgeon met with her parents and Phillips and gave the diagnosis of sexual assault, the parents say.

“Detective Phillips confronted the trauma surgeon following the diagnosis by stating, ‘You have no proof of that.’ The trauma surgeon replied to Detective Phillips that the injury was not consistent with a fall or ‘straddle injury,’” the complaint states.

While still at the hospital, Phillips allegedly told Doe’s parents not to speak to anyone about the reported sexual assault, including her teacher or the Austin Police Department. He opened an incident number for Doe’s assault and collected evidence.

Doe was released from the hospital the next day and her teacher was placed on administrative leave.

Two days later, Doe’s mother says she tried to speak with the principal of Boone Elementary, who was not available. A representative of the superintendent’s office reportedly called and said they could not discuss the matter since it was under investigation.

Then, on Feb. 15, Doe’s mother “was approached by approximately five mothers of students in [Doe’s] teacher’s class, who stated that their children have recently stopped using the restroom at Boone Elementary and instead, will ‘hold it’ from drop off time to pickup time,” according to the complaint.

The next day, Doe’s mother met with the school principal, who allegedly said he was not aware that the allegations were sexual in nature until she had told him. He also stated he was simply told by AISD Human Resources to place the teacher on administrative leave, the lawsuit says.

After the meeting, the principal sent a note addressed to Boone Elementary parents regarding the teacher’s absence. The note asked that parents respect the teacher’s privacy and said the date of the teacher’s return was expected to be soon, according to the complaint, and gave no explanation for the absence.

On Feb. 18, Doe made an “outcry” to her mother in which she identified her assailant, the parents claim.

When the mother emailed Phillips on Feb. 20 about Doe’s outcry, he allegedly said they had not yet interviewed the teacher, even though the sexual assault investigation had been opened 13 days earlier.

Doe’s mother learned two days later that one of Doe’s classmates, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe No. 2, also claimed to have been sexually assaulted by the same teacher who allegedly assaulted Doe.

Doe No. 2 withdrew from Boone Elementary on Feb. 23 and did not return, the lawsuit states.

AISD held a meeting on Feb. 24 with parents of students in Boone Elementary’s pre-kindergarten 3 program to discuss “safety concerns.” Police Chief Mendez was asked by parents where the accused teacher was and allegedly replied, “[W]e cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.”

But on Feb. 28, Phillips told Doe’s mother that AISD police had closed its investigation of the incident, allegedly saying there was not enough evidence to pursue charges.

“The case was closed without Jane Doe’s rape kit being processed and examined by AISD PD. Moreover, Chief Mendez publicly admitted, ‘[d]uring the course of the investigation, we failed to get a medical record that could prove to be vital in determining whether we have a sexual assault or not. Yes, it is important, yes we should have looked at it,’” according to the lawsuit.

AISD announced May 1 that Mendez was leaving to take over the police department for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

Doe’s parents claim Phillips has similarly closed other cases of reported sexual assault.

“Detective Phillips has previously closed numerous sexual assault and sexual misconduct cases for the stated reason ‘lack of evidence’ of sexual assault, despite victims and medical providers stating that sexual assault or sexual misconduct occurred,” the complaint states.

When Doe’s mother asked Phillips about the complaint made by Doe No. 2, he allegedly indicated it was unrelated. That girl’s case was closed on March 6 for lack of evidence, Doe’s parents say.

On March 8, the principal told Doe’s parents that her teacher would return to Boone Elementary on March 20. The principal scheduled a meeting between the parents, himself and the teacher for March 10, but it was later postponed.

In a text message to Doe’s mother, the principal allegedly said, “Don’t know if this is a good time for a phone call. [Teacher] does have an attorney who is saying no to the meeting.” (Brackets in original.)

“As of the date of the filing of this complaint, Jane Doe’s parents have never spoken to [her] teacher regarding the events at Boone Elementary on February 7, 2017, nor has AISD or AISD PD provided any explanation of their findings related to the alleged sexual assault,” the lawsuit says.

Doe’s parents say she has been deprived of a normal education due to AISD’s conduct and the educational environment it created.

The complaint also lists other cases of alleged sexual assault and predatory behavior perpetrated on female victims at AISD campuses that were not adequately investigated, including incidents at Lanier High School, O’Henry Middle School and Hart Elementary.

They represent “only a small collection of the cases of sexual assault swept under the rug by defendants and those acting in concert,” the lawsuit states.

An AISD spokeswoman told Courthouse News the school district has not yet been served with the lawsuit. She said it may respond once the lawsuit has been reviewed.

Doe’s parents seek actual and punitive damages for civil rights violations and the injuries and mental anguish from Doe’s alleged assault.

They are represented by Chad Dunn of Brazil & Dunn in Houston, and Paul Guinn of Farris & Hutton in Austin.

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