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Family of Audrie Pott to File Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Los Altan Sheila Pott recalls her daughter's 'kind and gentle heart' and how 'she warmed the room with her smile.'

 

Saratoga High School student Audrie Pott, 15, tried to end her life by hanging herself in the bathroom of her bedroom at her mother's house in Los Altos on Sept. 10, 2012.

She was sustained by life support equipment for several days before she was disconnected and pronounced dead, said the attorney representing the girl's family during a news conference Monday morning in San Jose.

Robert Allard said the girl's body was so violated during the alleged sexual assault, she was unclothed and marked with black ink on her legs with the suspects writing "blank was here."

"They absolutely taunted her," Allard said of the three suspects, 16, arrested Thursday, booked into juvenile hall and charged with two counts of sexual battery—one felony and one misdemeanor—and one additional count of possession and distribution of harmful matter depicting the victim.

"There were multiple markings on her body ... they drew on her," Allard said. "These boys knew what they were doing. This is the reason why this isn't some simple juvenile crime."

The images taken of the girl in that condition were so egregious that the parents said they haven't looked at them. And the tragedy was the culmination of two years of bullying by students at the school who made comments about her physique, Allard added.

The girl's parents, Lawrence and Sheila Pott, and step-mother Lisa Pott, will attend a detention hearing Tuesday for the boys. He added a wrongful death lawsuit will be filed this week seeking damages from the boys using pseudonyms, since they are minors, and from the owners of the home where the alleged incident occurred, Allard said.

"The principal at Saratoga High School announced her death before she was even dead," Allard added. "That was something we were not happy with."

Allard also said principal Paul Robinson had also said he had conducted his own investigation and had concluded her death was not related to bullying. But the attorney said he doesn't believe those statements and would like to ask him questions about what he did related to that allegation.

"This lawsuit now gives us the legal authority to subpoena cell phone and other electronic records and interview witnesses under penalty of perjury.

"The parents in this county deserve a safe community for their children," Allard said. "While we cannot bring Audrie back, it is the family's goal that the community is made safer by holding the suspects accountable, by sending a message that the behavior that left Audrie feeling hopeless and without a way, such as harassment and bullying of any kind, electronically or not, will not be tolerated. Serious consequences must be attached to such behavior."

On Monday, Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District Superintendent Bob Mistele released a statement saying the Saratoga High School community has been deeply affected by the girl's suicide. "Her loss has shocked and saddened us all."

He said his staff takes every allegation of bullying seriously.

"Since her death, we have examined our records and interviewed staff and found that Audrie had not sought counseling regarding bullying nor made any report of bullying," he said. "We first learned of the allegations from law enforcement and we continue to cooperate with them. This has been an ongoing investigation, once concluded, we will act accordingly."

In the meantime, Mistele said district officials will continue to examine their disciplinary proceedings and train and educate staff, students, and the community about the issues surrounding bullying and cyber-bullying.

The suspects had been in trouble at the school before and at Redwood Middle School, Allard said, adding that they were also a part of the school's football team, but were not allowed to play during the 2012 season.

Allard said the girl's family contacted his law firm to help them get to the bottom of her suicide.

After the girl's death, the parents were devastated, and searched for answers. They determined, based some of Audrie's friends coming forward, on rumors, and Audrie's own Facebook messages, that their daughter "had been violated in a terrible way and that at least one photo of the sexual assault was passed around electronically to humiliate Audrie."

Allard said that during Labor Day weekend of 2012, Audrie attended a party at a friend's home in Saratoga while her friend's parents were away.

After consuming alcohol at the party, Audrie became intoxicated and unconscious and it's alleged she was sexually assaulted and at least one photograph was taken.

"Those involved then distributed at least one photograph in person and via text messages to the students at Saratoga High School," he said.

In Audrie's own words, the attorney, said, she wrote "the whole school knows," and "my life is ruined now."

At a time when Audrie should have been worried about things like who her date would be at the upcoming dance, she was forced to have to deal with the worst nightmare that one can possible imagine, Allard said. "We can only imagine the horrific effect this had on his 15-year-old girl." 

In Audrie's Facebook messages, Allard said, he found writings of a young girl who felt traumatized, humiliated and shamed by what had been done to her.

The attorney thanked the media for their interest in the story—more than 20 television crews were in attendance—to begin a dialogue about the effects of sexual assault, electronic bullying and harassment to make sure the issues are propery addressed in society, he said.

The attorney contended that students at the school know what happened and have heard the suspects talk about the assault and share photos.

"I'm urging parents to have a discussion with their kids, tell them it is the honorable thing to do to come forward with information," he said.

The family has been waiting seven months to hear someone from the families of the boys apologize, Allard said. The first time they heard from the boys' families was Saturday, through the three attorneys representing them now—Eric Geffon, Alan Lagod and Bejamin Williams.

Calls and emails to Geffon and Williams were not immediately returned by the time of the posting of this story. Lagod briefly spoke to Saratoga Patch Monday morning, but declined comment and said a press release would be issued by the three lawyers.

"What is clear is that they will not voluntarily accept responsibility for what they did and that they will have to be forced to accept responsibility in a court of law," Allard said.

Also attending the news conference this morning were retired San Jose police sergeant investigators Mike Leininger and Ted Marfia, who are helping Allard with the case.

An emotional Sheila Pott recalled her daughter being a joy to everyone around her. "She warmed the room with her smile and made us laugh with her incredible wit and sense of humor. She had a kind and gentle heart ..."

Pott said she was devastated and outraged to learn after her daughter's death and the discovery of the alleged acts that the sexual assault was not considered rape and could not be escalated to adult court. "To make matters worse, since we are now limited to the penalties present in the juvenile system, my daughter's attackers may never have to serve time, never have to register as sex offenders and since a juvenile's identity is protected there would never be any future impact on these boys' lives."

"These boys distributed pictures to humiliate and further bully my daughter. If this can happen to my daughter, it can happen to anyone."

An emotional Larry Pott said he and his wife decided to support the girl's mother in naming their daughter as the victim of the crime so that her story and death could help others and help prevent the growing epidemic of sexual assault, the inappropriate dissemination of photographs online and cyberbylling.

"She was so full of life. There was no denying when Audrie walked into the room that she would light it up, always," he said, crying.

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bette page April 16, 2013 at 02:21 PM
"principal Paul Robinson had also said he had conducted his own investigation and had concluded her death was not related to bullying." Does this man have a Phd in Psych? And why did he not call the police. It's sad when people have to resort to civil lawsuits to get the police off their butts.
johan April 16, 2013 at 07:25 PM
This is the saddest story ever. The principal should be locked up and charged for turning a blind eye to this horrible crime. Crime of principal....beung an a*hole What if that had been 'his' daughter?

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