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Originally published June 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 26, 2007 at 11:08 AM

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School district slow to report alleged sexual assault of girl

Although the alleged incident occurred on June 4, it wasn't reported to police until last Thursday when the girl filed a complaint.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The Seattle School District is investigating whether Rainier Beach High School officials violated district protocol by not immediately reporting the alleged sexual assault of a student to police.

Although the alleged campus incident occurred on June 4, it wasn't reported to police until last Thursday when the girl filed a complaint, according to a police report. The girl said she was sexually assaulted in a school restroom by a male student while a second boy stood watch at the door.

The district is working with police as it looks into the matter, said district spokeswoman Patti Spencer.

"Seattle Police Department is a lead agency. We are deferring to them," she said. "We are conducting an administrative review, gathering reports [from the school]. We'll take those reports to determine whether procedures and protocol were followed."

On Monday, the two boys accused of participating in the assault were "emergency expelled" for nine days, which coincided with the last day of the school year, said Spencer.

Initially, the district had suspended the two boys for three days. But Spencer said the district decided to expel them once it began reviewing the situation.

"It was something we do as a matter of routine. It just put these students on notice," Spencer said.

Asked whether the initial discipline was too light for the situation, Spencer said: "When the school's administration took disciplinary measures, they took action they believed to be appropriate based on the information they had."

It's unclear when — or if — the district notified police of the alleged assault. Rainier Beach principal Robert Gary Jr. on Monday would not comment on whether the school separately had contacted police.

"Pretty much the whole situation, since we're dealing with students, we want to just make sure that we're handling it as agents of the district," he said. "When we're ready to present our statement, we will do that."

Class intrusion

According to the police report, the girl was in a history class supervised by a teacher on June 4 when two boys walked in, "began badgering and pestering her" and made sexual comments. One of the boys put his hands on her chest, the report said.

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When class ended, the girl walked out into the hallway and one or both boys followed. She asked to be left alone, and then one boy cornered her and began unzipping her shirt, the report said.

The girl told police she protested and then hit the boy on the head, and said he responded by pulling her into a nearby boys' restroom. Once inside, she said, another boy also harassed her and then stood guard at the door while the first boy pushed her into a stall and sexually assaulted her, according to the report.

The girl told police she forced her way out of the restroom and told a teacher that afternoon. The next morning, she said, she spoke with two other school employees. The names of the employees were redacted from the report.

When school officials investigated, the boys initially denied participating, the report said. Then they acknowledged some involvement but said the girl's claims were exaggerated, the report said. The boys were then suspended for three days, according to the report.

The girl told her grandmother, and then went to the police with an unnamed adult.

Reporting incidents

At the time she went to police, the girl said, she believed school officials had never called police about the alleged incident, according to the report.

According to Seattle Public Schools' Discipline for Exceptional Misconduct rules, a high-school student who sexually assaults a peer is subject to discipline, including long-term suspension and counseling for the first two offenses, and expulsion for the third offense.

"A lesser or greater discipline may used if appropriate," the rules add.

Tomas Gahan, a deputy prosecuting attorney and the School Violence Program coordinator, said there are many situations in which schools should handle disciplinary issues on their own — like bullying, or two students deciding to trade punches behind the cafeteria after class.

But a violent crime, including allegations of sexual assault, should always be reported, he said.

"A lot of times schools think they can handle these issues on their own, but when it's a criminal issue it affects the wider community," he said. "The school is looking out for themselves by suspending the kids. If there's criminal activity they have to report it."

Roxana Popescu: 206-464-2112 or rpopescu@seattletimes.com

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