Archive for Sunday, April 17, 2005

School officials may be charged in assault

April 17, 2005


— The girl was led by the arm behind a stage curtain in the auditorium. There, witnesses said her lip was bloodied and she was sexually assaulted by a group of boys, an attack videotaped by one student and watched by more than a dozen others who came running as word spread.

Within minutes, the developmentally disabled girl reported the alleged assault to a special education teacher, who said the girl "looked dazed and confused and was crying."

But principals didn't immediately notify police for fear of media attention, in violation of state law. When the girl's father arrived, he was asked not to call 911. He ignored the request and called police.

Now administrators at Mifflin High School face the possibility of being charged along with students in the alleged March 9 assault at the school, which has a history of violence.

"Even if you are following the common sense measure, absolutely, none of this should have happened," Gene Harris, district superintendent, said Friday.

The district said it will fire Principal Regina Crenshaw and has suspended three assistant principals. Police have not said who will face charges, but a city attorney said school officials could be prosecuted along with the alleged assailants.

Witness statements to school investigators paint a picture of a slipshod response to the alleged assault, which came on the heels of other problems. Earlier in the day, administrators had to deal with an assault on a Somali student and a report that a student had a concealed weapon.

Just after noon, the girl said four boys grabbed her by the arm. Students said one assailant punched the girl in the face and she dropped to her knees. One of the boys told her, "If you scream I'll have all my boys punch you."

She was forced to perform oral sex on at least two boys, according to statements from school investigators.

A student who had a camera for a school project videotaped the alleged assault, illuminated by light from a cell phone. Another witness said at least 15 people were in a room that looked into the auditorium because they had heard what was happening.

When some students eventually went to look for an adult, the boys involved in the alleged assault fled.

Police have not said how many boys may be charged, but plan to give evidence to prosecutors early this coming week. Potential charges could include delinquency counts of rape and pandering obscenity, said spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio.

The boys, who have not been publicly identified, are not expected to return to class this school year, district spokesman Andrew Marcelain said.

Whether school administrators will be charged is unclear. State law requires officials to immediately report cases of abuse to law enforcement or face up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine, said City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr.

However, he said officials would be charged only if someone filed a complaint. So far, no complaint has been filed. An attorney for the girl's father would not say if he planned to file one.

The school also is investigating the possibility of earlier assaults against the girl. Lisa Upshaw-Haider, the special education teacher, said boys previously had oral sex with the girl on a bus and tried to pull down her pants at school.

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