Lawsuit claims Austin ISD covered up sexual assault cases

FILE - AISD Police (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - AISD Police (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The parents of a 4-year-old girl who say their daughter was sexually assaulted while at Boone Elementary School has filed a federal lawsuit against the Austin Independent School District, claiming the district and the district’s police department failed to “promptly and appropriately” investigate and respond to sexual assault accusations.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, says the lack of action by AISD resulted in a hostile education environment that violates Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

The suit claims AISD’s police department covered up cases rather than “impartially investigate sexual assaults between faculty/staff and students.”

The child’s parents say the incident happened on Feb. 7. The child’s mother says she took her daughter to school for Pre-K that morning and picked her up three hours later.  Once they got home, the mother says she heard the child screaming while using the bathroom, and found blood and horrible bruising on her body. Her parents took her to the hospital where staff identified her injuries as the result of sexual assault by bodily force, says the family attorney.

The suit is also directed at an AISD PD detective who the attorney says is repeatedly assigned to sexual assault cases where he “routinely concludes such investigations very quickly without charges against perpetrators.” According to court documents, when the detective showed up to the hospital to talk to doctors and the victim’s parents, he “confronted” the surgeon who said the child’s injuries were possibly due to a sexual assault. The detective is accused of saying, “You have no proof of that.”

AISD Chief of Police Eric Mendez initially said his department didn’t have the child’s medical records in the file, but last week in a 1-on-1 with KXAN, he said they did have the medical records reviewed.

“While we didn’t pick up the records as a technical aspect of the case to have them in the case file, the medical expert assigned to the case through the Center for Child Protection and as part of the child protection team did in fact review all of the medical records, including the records that we did not pick up,” said Mendez. With the information they had, the department closed the case two weeks after it was opened.

The attorney also listed several other cases where they believe AISD mishandled the investigation:

  • Parent of a 3-year-old girl at Boone Elementary claims teacher sexually assaulted her child. She was examined at Dell Children’s on Feb. 22. Lawsuit says the case was closed on March 6, 2017 for lack of evidence.
  • Lanier High School sophomore told police she was sexually assaulted in the bathroom stall on April 1, 2015. AISD police said they reviewed surveillance but could not find evidence of a sexual assault.
  • May 2016 investigation into a O’Henry Middle School teacher accused of “predatory” behavior online. The suit states the teacher tried to get an 8th grade student to participate in secretive electronic communications. Case was closed in July 2016. While there were never any official charges, the teacher did resign. 

The female teacher at Boone Elementary who was originally put on administrative leave during the AISD investigation is now back on administrative leave as the investigation is reopened.

An AISD spokesperson says, “We have not been served by the lawsuit. If and when we are, we’ll take a look and could respond once thoroughly reviewed.”

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