Berkeley High School student sues alleging school mishandled sex assault case

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A 16-year-old Berkeley High School student is suing the school district for negligence after several officials allegedly failed to properly handle her sexual assault case last year.

The student had been the victim of persistent harassment and stalking by a fellow student, the lawsuit alleged. Claiming that school administrators and a Berkeley police officer assigned to the case failed to protect her from further attacks, the student ultimately missed more than two months of school, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Monday.

On Oct. 20, 2015, the male student perpetrator in her physical education class grabbed the victim’s buttock during classan incident that had been preceded by incidents of cat-calling, stalking and sexual comments including “look at that butt” and calling her his girlfriend since September 2015, the lawsuit alleged.

“The student/perpetrator would also show up where Plaintiff was and get close to her and make sexual comments both on and off campus and without warning,” the lawsuit alleged. “He would show up at the cafeteria, at the BART station, and in the school hallways.”

The lawsuit claims that while the victim filed out an incident statement and spoke with Berkeley High vice principal Felicia Phillips, neither the director of student services nor the on-campus police officer was immediately notified per requirement, the lawsuit alleged.

The next day when the victim and her mother met with Phillips and Berkeley Police Department officer Ethell Wilson, Wilson allegedly asked the victim questions such as, “Why didn’t you report him earlier?” and, “Why didn’t you tell someone before this?”

“(The questions) suggested that Plaintiff had invited his predatory behavior, had somehow not conducted herself properly,” the lawsuit alleged.

When the victim asked that the sexual perpetrator be arrested and charged with sexual assault, the lawsuit alleges that Wilson responded, “We are trying to keep these young men out of the system.” On Oct. 22, 2015, the lawsuit alleged that the victim was assaulted again by the perpetrator, who shoved her after she pushed him away during his attempt to hug her.

“Plaintiff was so upset by these incidents and the schools lack of concern and response to them that she was unable to attend school from October 22, 2015 to December 1, 2015,” the lawsuit alleged.

The incidents occurred just after a new sexual harassment prevention policy was implemented at the school, which included an improved training program and guide on disciplinary steps to take against sexual harassment offenders. In February 2015, Berkeley High students filed a Title IX complaint against the school for failing to properly address sexual misconduct cases.

For her return, specific routes were given to the victim and the perpetrator to avoid contact, but the lawsuit claims that the two soon ran into one another. A school personnel promised by Phillips to escort the victim out of her class at the end of each day was never provided, according to the lawsuit.

Shortly after she came back to school the victim was pulled out her class by Irma Parker of the Parent Resource Center, the lawsuit stated. Parker allegedly told her “her mother was blowing things out of proportion” and that the victim should take responsibility for the situation, the lawsuit stated.

When the victim experienced another encounter with the perpetrator at the BART station, she asked the principal’s assistant how to prevent the perpetrator from being near the area, the lawsuit stated. Jana Jandra allegedly asked “why she was going to Berkeley High School if she was having such difficulties there,” according to the lawsuit.

Whether the school punished the student perpetrator is not mentioned in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string legal challenges the district is facing. In October, middle school teacher Yvette Felarca sued after she was placed on involuntary paid leave, and last week four students filed a class-action lawsuit for alleged racial discrimination.

Neither the victim’s attorney nor a Berkeley school district spokesperson could be immediately reached for comment.

Check back for updates.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.