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Settlement rejected in Mount Hope rape case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The family of a girl who was allegedly raped in a Mount Hope High School stairwell by several students rejected a $65,000 settlement proposal from school officials after a mediator said that the offer would not cover the girl's future educational and psychological care, according to court filings.

The girl, identified in the lawsuit by her initials, sued the Fayette County school board, the state Department of Education and other school officials in 2011 following an after-school incident in which several boys allegedly forced her into a secluded stairwell known for its sexual activity and assaulted her.

The girl is now 15 years old, according to court filings.

Mount Hope High School has been closed ever since the state Board of Education found that the school had serious problems with bullying and harassment and declared its curriculum "weak and thin" in January 2011 before relocating its students. The state school board had taken over the entire Fayette County school system the previous year.

Maryl Sattler, the mediator appointed to help resolve the case, said in a filing earlier this month in U.S. District Court that while authorities did not pursue criminal charges against the boys who allegedly took part in the attack, "substantial evidence" existed in the case to indicate that the girl had been raped.

Sattler also said that the total $65,000 settlement proposal -- of which only about $35,000 would go to the girl and her family -- would not begin to cover the girl's treatment costs.

"I am concerned that the amount of the settlement will not cover the future psychological treatment and educational expenses that [the girl] is almost certain to require," Sattler said, "and that it does not adequately compensate [the girl] for the harm she has suffered."

On Nov. 12, 2010, a cheerleading coach had asked the girl to stay after school for practice, which caused her to miss the bus, according to the original federal lawsuit. She tried to use the school's office phone to call home but workers there refused to let her, according to the lawsuit.

Around five student-athletes, all 16 or 17 years old, allegedly confronted the girl outside the building and took her to a stairwell "commonly used by students at Mount Hope to engage in sexual activity", the lawsuit states. Most of the school staff had left for the day.

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

Matthew England, a Fayette County assistant prosecutor, told the Gazette in 2011 that authorities looked into the case at the time but came across security camera footage that showed her apparently walking calmly with the group to the secluded room. The girl had previously claimed that she had been dragged to the area kicking and screaming, according to England.

During one interview with investigators, the girl also apparently recanted a portion of her testimony by saying "nobody had sex with me." She maintained, however, that she had been forced to perform oral sex.

Medical reports indicate that the girl suffered vaginal tearing. When England asked her to explain how that happened, the girl responded that "she rode four wheelers", according to court documents.

Dr. Bobby Miller, a forensic psychologist, testified during one deposition that it is common for rape victims to recant during stressful situations. Sattler also pointed out in her brief that the parties did not present any evidence that indicates simply riding on a four-wheeler as a cause of vaginal trauma.

One of the girl's female friends also with the group at the time of the alleged sexual assault. She said in one deposition that she witnessed the girl resisting her attackers and added that at some point, "it got real serious."

"Because when they like started pulling on her, and then she wasn't laughing anymore, and then she just kept saying 'no,' the friend said in the deposition. "And then when I went in the stairwell and I seen them, like at the bottom, like I told you earlier -- yeah and then when she came out and she wasn't laughing or anything, I knew it was serious."

Sattler said that she believed the friend's testimony corroborated the girl's rape.

Lawyers representing the state Board of Education could not be reached for comment.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin set the trial in the case for Aug. 26.

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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