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Teen says she was raped at Fayette school

By Zac Taylor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal lawsuit filed last week alleges that several student athletes abducted a 13-year-old girl last year and raped her in a back room of the now-defunct Mount Hope High School.

The girl, identified in the lawsuit only by her initials, is suing the former school, the Fayette County school board, the state Department of Education and other school officials for not providing enough supervision on school grounds and not taking measures that would have prevented the rape.

Authorities were unable to file criminal charges after conflicting statements and a lack of DNA evidence undermined the girl's credibility, Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew England told the Gazette.

On Nov. 12, 2010, the girl's cheerleading coach, Linda Nevi, asked her to stay after school to collect the team's uniforms, the lawsuit states, which caused her to miss her bus.

The girl, who did not have a cellphone, went to the school's main office and asked the employees there to let her use a phone. They refused, the suit states.

She then went to the gym and borrowed a phone, called her family, and told them that she would catch a ride home with a friend after he was finished with basketball practice.

The school's basketball coach, Bo Morrison, told her that she could not stay in the gym. She went back inside the building and found that the main office was locked and that the staff had left for the day.

Several student athletes, all 16 or 17 years old, then confronted the girl and forced her into a room "commonly used by students at Mount Hope to engage in sexual acts," the suit states.

"In this room," the lawsuit states, "the student athletes raped and physically and sexually assaulted [the girl] while another female was present."

Morrison and Nevi, along with Mount Hope's former principals, Mike and Leah Hutchins, are also named in the lawsuit.

England said authorities investigated the incident but lacked enough evidence to file charges against the five students allegedly involved.

The girl, he said, also gave conflicting statements to police and prosecutors that undermined her credibility, having at one point recanted that she was vaginally raped, he said.

Her original claim, England said, also stipulated that the teens had dragged her "kicking and screaming" to the back room where she was raped. But surveillance video showed that she walked there on her own, he said.

"We have video that shows she wasn't picked up and grabbed kicking and screaming," he said, "where she walked to the area freely, or what appeared to be voluntarily."

England also said investigators found no DNA evidence linking the teens to the alleged crime.

"Our office was disappointed," England said. "It became clear that, unfortunately, we just didn't have the evidence to go forward."

According to the girl's lawyers, the teen never recanted her statements to police, and forensic evidence does exist indicating the girl was sexually assaulted that day.

"What the prosecutor has said about the evidence does not reflect what the evidence actually is," Leigh M. Boggs Lefler, one of the girl's lawyers, told the Gazette.

Lefler said prosecutors did not interview the girl until about two months after the incident, during which time she may have been bullied and intimidated.

Lefler also said that the girl, publicly or otherwise, never recanted the details of her sexual assault. The lawyer could not provide details about specific evidence showing the crime took place.

In January, citing Mount Hope High School's "weak and thin" curriculum and the lowest math scores in the state, the state Board of Education voted unanimously to close the school and merge it with Oak Hill High School and Collins Middle School.

The state had taken over the entire Fayette County school system the previous year for chronically weak test scores and not approving a $49 million bond issue that would have built a consolidated Fayette Plateau High School and moved students there from four other county high schools.

An official with the state Department of Education said the agency has not officially been served with the lawsuit and could not provide comment.

The girl also is represented by lawyers Matthew Victor and Christopher Lefler.Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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