Jury trial starts Tuesday in former Myers Park student’s sexual assault lawsuit

A jury trial begins Tuesday for a former Myers Park High School student who alleges administrators and police mishandled her report of sexual assault on campus in 2015.

U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad will preside over the jury trial in North Carolina’s Western District Court. The case involves Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the city of Charlotte and Jane Doe, the name listed on the lawsuit for the former student to protect her identity. She first filed the complaint in federal court in November 2018.

A last attempt to resolve the case without a trial took place Nov. 30.

Caroline Kruk, a campus advocate for L.L. Dunn Law Firm, confirmed to The Charlotte Observer that Doe will testify during the trial.

Laura Dunn, who represents Doe, wrote in an email she expects the trial to take a full week, at minimum.

Doe, who was 17 years old at the time of the incident, is seeking compensation for damages that include physical and psychological pain, suffering, impairment, lost wages, loss of educational opportunity, attorneys fees, costs and “further relief that justice may require,” according to the claim.

Kruk declined to share the total amount of damages sought.

A pair of claims against the school district and city are the only ones still standing. The court dismissed all claims against former CMS employee Anthony Perkins, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer Bradley Leak who was assigned to Myers Park High as a school resource officer and Kerr Putney, former chief of CMPD.

Asked about the case Friday, interim superintendent Crystal Hill said, “We do not comment on litigation.”

Allegations against CMS, city

Doe, a junior at Myers Park High at the time, alleges officials did not take “immediate” action to help her after seeing she was being led into the woods on school property by an 18-year-old male student.

Around the same time, according to the lawsuit, Doe texted her mom and friends saying she was in danger. Within an hour, Doe says, she was picked up by the school resource officer near the woods, where she told him she had been sexually assaulted. She alleges school officials dissuaded her from initiating a criminal investigation.

The lawsuit states CMS not only failed to address female students’ reports of harassment at Myers Park High, but the district actually fostered a “hostile educational environment through a policy of deliberate indifference to known reports of sexual misconduct.”

Under a part of federal education law commonly referred to as Title IX, sexual violence on campus is considered a form of sex-based harassment, which federally funded school systems such as CMS are required to address when complaints arise.

The lawsuit claims Charlotte and CMS failed to properly train their employees, including police officers working in schools, on how to report and respond to crimes of sexual assault. CMS had a duty to train its employees ”on how to prevent and address crimes and related misconduct, such as abductions, rapes, and sexual harassment” and comply with related constitutionally and federally protected rights,” the lawsuit states. CMPD failed to train its officers, which left them unequipped to prohibit or discourage “readily foreseeable conduct” the suit says.

CMS Title IX office expanded

Doe’s lawsuit is one of three sexual assault cases filed against CMS. Former Myers Park High student Jill Roe filed a lawsuit in December 2019 that was settled for $50,000 in the spring. Serena Evans, a former Myers Park High student and tennis player who says her report of being raped in a high school bathroom in 2016 wasn’t properly investigated, filed a lawsuit against the district in June 2022.

In court filings, school officials largely deny students’ allegations, but the lawsuits, student-led protests last year during the 2021-22 school year and the coming forward of teen victims forced CMS to make changes amid intense scrutiny related to how the district has handled past reports of sexual assault and harassment on its campuses.

Hill, hired by CMS in May as its chief of staff, was assigned to the Title IX office. She told media Friday she helped the department expanded from two employees to 11.

The district, she says, has taken steps to ensure student safety, including bolstering Title IX training, ensuring all parties involved in a reported incident receive an outcome letter and employees are following up on “every single incident once we’re aware. CMS also is working closely with local police.

“A lot of work has been done,” Hill said. “(And) a lot of work that still has to be done.”

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