Calif. school couldn't expel teens accused in assault case, official says

The attorney for the family of a 15-year-old Northern California girl who hanged herself after she was allegedly sexually abused by three boys disputed an explanation by a school superintendent of why the boys were not expelled.

After Saratoga schools superintendent Bob Mistele said Wednesday the three teens suspected of assaulting Audrie Pott were at a party which was not on campus or related to school, so they could not be expelled, attorney Robert Allard responded by saying his reaction and that of the Pott family was "one of disgust and dismay."

In his response, Allard outlined four areas of disagreement with district's statement, including the claim that the boys could not be expelled because the alleged assault did not take place on campus and was not related to school.

"Whether the sexual assault occurred on or off campus, it is clear from the accounts of various students that the dissemination of at least one photograph occurred on school grounds for the specific purpose to harass and intimidate Audrie while she was attending school related activities, Allard said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

"For that reason, in our view, the school district was obligated to investigate and take action against these young men. The Pott family in fact participated in several meetings with school administrators to demand that the young men be expelled or removed from campus," the statement said.

The boys accused in the case were charged in the fall but remained in school seven months until April 11, when sheriff's deputies took them out of their classrooms and arrested them on charges of sexual battery and distribution of child pornography. Attorneys representing the teens, whose names have not been released because of their ages, did not return repeated calls seeking comment Wednesday.

The Pott family filed a lawsuit against the boys and their families Monday, and has also filed a claim against the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District, alleging that administrators were slack in responding to bullying against Audrie, who committed suicide eight days after she was assaulted.

Allard alleges that the three suspects took her upstairs to a bedroom during a Labor Day weekend party where she drank a combination of vodka and Gatorade and passed out. The boys allegedly assaulted her, drew and wrote on her, and took a photo of an intimate body part, said attorney Robert Allard.

Allard said the district failed to document a meeting the Pott family had with administrators about bullying several months before Audrie's death.

In a written statement responding to questions from The Associated Press and other media, Mistele confirmed that administrators had met with the Pott family before her death, but he said "the issue of bullying was not the subject covered in those conversations."

Mistele said that after Audrie's death, a small group of students came to the office to tell an assistant principal that students were talking about an incident at a party involving the girl, and that some photographs were being shared among students.

He said school officials contacted the campus resource officer but it remains "very unclear" whether photographs of the alleged sexual assault were circulated among students on campus.

But in his response to the school district's statement, Allard described the school district as "more interested in protecting its image than in taking responsibility for its lack of actions in Audrie's case."

Allard said Audrie saw people huddled around a phone and believed her photo was being shared. And the school newspaper reported Sunday that several students whom they did not name thought that about 10 students had seen the photo.

"The whole school is talking about it. My life is over," Audrie wrote in a Facebook message before she killed herself, her stepmother said.

But Mistele said that along with law enforcement investigators, school officials "have been unable to verify the extent to which any photographic images may have been shared on campus or the Internet before or after her suicide that may have contributed to her feeling embarrassed or harassed."

The three boys spent the weekend in the county juvenile detention center and appeared in court Tuesday. The Santa Clara County sheriff's office did not respond to calls about their current situation.

Mistele said the boys' alleged misconduct now warrants a suspension or placement in independent study to avoid "a disruption or distraction on campus." He said the students' parents have agreed with administrators that they won't go back to campus until the case is resolved, and if they are found guilty, Mistele said the teens could be expelled.

A candlelight vigil is planned for Audrie this Friday at 8 p.m. at Saratoga High School.