More than five years after a 14-year-old Alabama girl with special needs says she was persuaded by a teacher’s aide to act as bait to catch an accused sexual predator, her attorneys have filed a civil lawsuit.
The suit, filed earlier this month, targets a fellow student who allegedly sodomized her in a school bathroom.
In the lawsuit, filed in the Madison County Circuit Court in Huntsville, attorneys say the alleged rape caused “emotional debilitation” that is “likely permanent” and that the alleged victim, now 19, is under the care of both a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
She’s referred to as “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit. However, she asked CNN to call her “Jaden” during an exclusive interview in October 2014.
“It’s hard for me to have good days,” Jaden said.
“I just felt like I was set up by the teachers. They gave me a word that they couldn’t keep,” she said.
In 2010, Jaden’s father filed a federal lawsuit against Madison County Schools and its officials. The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has scheduled oral arguments for the week of May 18.
“We look forward to discussing this case with the judges who will be deciding it and ultimately letting a jury decide this matter,” said Eric Artrip, the attorney representing the girl and her father. “It has essentially devastated her life.”
A plan that went wrong?
According to federal court records, a 16-year-old student approached Jaden in the hallway of Sparkman Middle School in Toney, Alabama, on January 22, 2010, and asked her to meet him in a bathroom for sex.
It was not the first time the boy had propositioned her, said Jaden, who was enrolled in the school’s special education program.
Usually, she ignored him, but on that day Jaden told a friend, who suggested she tell a teacher’s aide what was happening. The aide, June Ann Simpson, knew of other girls whom the boy had tried to lure into a bathroom for sex, according the federal lawsuit.
Simpson told the school’s principal, Ronnie Blair, about the allegations.
According to a 2012 deposition, Blair told Simpson the boy would have to be proven guilty to be punished. In response, Simpson crafted a plan to prove the allegations, using Jaden as bait.
The idea was to have the girl agree to meet the boy in a bathroom. Simpson would watch surveillance video, and teachers would intervene before anything happened.
“I told her no. I didn’t want to do it,” Jaden told CNN.
She acquiesced later that day, she said, explaining, “I just wanted it to stop.”
‘He just gets away with it’
Key questions in her case center around who knew what, and when.
Jaden and Simpson say they went to the office of vice principal Jeanne Dunaway, and when Simpson told Dunaway about the plan, she said, Dunaway did not respond. During a deposition, Dunaway denied the conversation happened.
Jaden then left Dunaway’s office and found the boy in the hallway to tell him they could “do it,” Jaden told CNN.
Simpson stayed behind to watch surveillance monitors, hoping to catch the two walking into the bathroom. She never saw them.
According to Jaden’s written statement after the incident, the boy made a last-minute change. Instead of meeting in the boys’ bathroom on the special needs students’ corridor, the boy allegedly told the girl to meet him in the sixth-grade boys’ bathroom, in another part of the school.
Once there, Jaden says she tried to stall the boy, hoping a teacher would rush in. She told him she didn’t want to have sex, and she tried blocking him, according to her 2012 deposition. Nothing worked.
The boy sodomized her, Jaden said.
“I thought they were going to do what they said they were going to do — and be there and stop him — just get him in trouble,” Jaden told CNN.
The alleged attacker was never charged, and the case was never presented to a grand jury, according to Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard.
The incident was characterized as “inappropriate touching a girl in boys bathroom,” according to school disciplinary records. The boy was suspended from school for five days and sent to an alternative school for a short time.
The alleged attack was at least the 13th accusation of sexual or violent misconduct in the boy’s file, all within two academic years. While at the alternative school, the boy was suspended for sharing pornographic images on a cell phone.
He was eventually allowed to return to Sparkman Middle School, where Jaden was still enrolled.
“He just gets away with it, I guess,” she told CNN.
June Ann Simpson resigned shortly after the incident.
“My client has gone from being a teacher’s aide to being a scapegoat,” attorney Griff Belser told CNN.
Dunaway is now the principal at nearby Madison County Elementary School.
In 2013, a district court judge allowed the father’s claims of state violations, including negligence, against Simpson and Dunaway. The judge tossed out the federal claims — that the school district violated Title IX and that Simpson and school administrators deprived the girl of her civil rights.
Title IX is a federal law aimed at ending sexual discrimination in education. In part, it dictates how schools that receive federal funds must respond to claims of sexual harassment.
Both sides have appealed.
“(Judge T. Michael Putnam) found the board of education’s policies were proper. He found that the school administrators took appropriate action and complied completely with federal law as soon as they were notified of this unfortunate incident,” attorney Mark Boardman told reporters in 2014.
Boardman’s firm represents Madison County Schools and the administrators named in the 2010 lawsuit.
The firm has not responded to numerous requests for an interview.
In 2014, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division submitted a 126-page amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, disagreeing with the district judge’s order.
The brief, submitted jointly with the U.S. Department of Education, argues that the school, in its capacity as a recipient of federal funds, is “liable for (its) deliberate indifference to known acts of peer sexual harassment.”
“If Title IX imposes any responsibility on school officials to prevent sexual harassment, it surely requires a response when they learn, as here, that a 14-year-old special needs student is about to be used as bait to catch a 16-year-old student with an extensive history of sexual and violent misconduct,” federal attorneys wrote in the brief.
‘I get angry faster’
In February, Jaden’s attorneys asked the federal appeals court to allow her to replace her father as the plaintiff in the case, now that she’s an adult.
“Due to the nature of the facts,” they asked that she be allowed to remain anonymous.
Attorneys for the school district and school officials, who are named in the federal lawsuit, have asked the court to deny that request.
In its response, the defendant’s attorney cites, in part, “basic fairness” and the lack of evidence of “any adverse consequence” that would result from using her real name.
The court has not yet decided.
On the same day the federal brief was submitted, the Women’s Law Project, joined by 32 national and local organizations, submitted a brief supporting the family’s lawsuit. The National Women’s Law Center and Artrip, the family’s attorney, have also submitted a brief to the 11th Circuit.
“It means a lot. It says that people actually care about what happens,” Jaden told CNN
Months after the incident, the teen transferred to a school district out of state, but eventually dropped out of school before graduating. Jaden said she continues to struggle.
“I have days to where I just want to sit there by myself. I get angry faster, and I get insecure,” she told CNN.
Asked what might help her, she stressed the importance of justice and closure.
“By actually having our day in court and letting everything be known, so that it won’t happen again,” Jaden said.