Jury rules CMS will not have to pay damages in student’s sex assault lawsuit

CHARLOTTE — A jury has ruled that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will not have to pay damages in a former Myers Park High School student’s lawsuit over her sexual assault case.

The former student sued Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the City of Charlotte, saying they mishandled her report of a sexual assault that happened near the campus on Nov. 3, 2015. The judge dropped the city from the lawsuit during the course of the trial, leaving CMS as the only defendant.

The verdict was reached by a jury on Friday night after a weeklong trial. They found the woman’s Title IX rights were not violated after she reported the sexual assault.

According to a nearly 30-page civil suit, the unidentified girl, Jane Doe, said a fellow student “grabbed and squeezed” her arm and pulled her toward the woods next to campus, despite her verbal protest. That’s when, according to the lawsuit, Doe started to send frantic texts: “Help me,” “Guys, I’m being serious. I’m really scared,” and “Mom, I’m being kidnapped. Call somebody.” Shortly after, she describes being raped by the student.

Doe sought more than $1 million damages. The complaints say, “Ms. Doe suffered and continues to suffer injuries, including, without limitations, emotional distress, psychological trauma, and mortification.” The court complaint also states, “The actions and inactions of defendants to discount Ms. Doe’s abduction and subsequent rape by a fellow student were driven by endemic and discriminatory sex-based stereotypes and gender biases held by officials at MPHS.”


Verdict reached

Late Friday evening a jury determined CMS did not commit a Title IX violation in their handling of a former Myers Park High School student’s sexual assault case.

The jury determined CMS was not deliberately indifferent, one of the four criteria used to determine if a Title IX infraction occurred.

The former student, referred to only as Jane Doe, will not receive the damages she sought.

Channel 9′s Jonathan Lowe was in the courtroom during the entire trial. He said the jury determined Doe did suffer “pervasive, severe and objectively offensive” sexual harassment. The jury also said school administration was made aware of the harassment.

However, CMS did enough to investigate the assault and to protect Doe to the point that they were not indifferent, according to the jury.

“We are grateful the jury reached their decision after hearing all of the evidence,” a statement from CMS said.

Attorneys for Doe said that despite the jury’s verdict, she feels vindicated.

“(The jury) found that she was sexually harassed and that it was severe,” attorney Linda Bailey said. “Even at the end of the day, even with CMS not being held accountable, we still know that the jury believed her and that’s what she wanted from the start.”

Civil cases can be appealed, but Doe’s attorneys said they weren’t sure if that would be pursued.

“We have some options, but I think that it is a little too early to discuss,” attorney Laura Dunn said. “I want her just to sit with the fact that she was believed, it’s the first time she’s had that feeling in seven years.”

Closing arguments; jury deliberates

Closing arguments in the case began around 3 p.m. Friday, and the jury began deliberating just after 4:30 p.m. The case is expected to wrap up before the weekend.

The jury was instructed to determine whether there was a Title IX violation using four different qualifications:

  1. That Myers Park High School is a federally funded school
  2. Did Jane Doe suffer sexual harassment?
  3. Was actual notice given (was the claim told to someone of authority?) and was it given to the appropriate person (like a principal, assistant principal, or a school resource officer, for example. Someone who could do something about the claim.)?
  4. Was CMS deliberately indifferent? That could be in one of two ways:
    1. How they investigated Doe’s claim, or
    2. Was there a prior sexual assault that the school mishandled, which led to Doe’s eventual alleged sexual assault?

The plaintiff is asking for the following damages over the course of 50 years: $100 per counseling visit, $50 per day for medications, and $1 million for the loss of a future career and compensation for damage.

CMS calls one witness, rests

By Friday afternoon, an attorney for CMS told the judge he was ready to close.

The district only called one witness: The former assistant principal for Myers Park High School, Anthony Perkins. He detailed what he did in the days after the alleged incident, saying he was waiting to talk to Jane Doe but never got that opportunity.

The next steps in the trial will be a charging conference for the attorneys, the jury instructions, closing arguments, and then deliberations.

City of Charlotte dropped as defendant

On Thursday afternoon, the judge presiding over the case dropped the City of Charlotte from the lawsuit, saying the plaintiff didn’t prove the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the school resource officer -- who is a city employee -- was culpable or responsible for what happened.

Channel 9 asked the city for a statement on the development.

“Given the ongoing litigation in this case, the City will have no comment at this time,” a spokesperson said.

CMS was expected to start the day Friday by calling its witnesses.

Jane Doe takes the stand

On Thursday, Jane Doe took the stand. She began her testimony by describing to the court what type of student she was when everything happened -- she showed transcripts where she earned As, Bs and some Cs in ninth and 10th grades, but by 11th grade (after the reported assault), her grades started to drop.

The main line of questioning went through text messages between Doe and her alleged attacker, identified as “Q.W.” The texts began on Oct. 29, only a week before the alleged assault. They grew increasingly sexual in nature the closer they were to Nov. 3.

The texts showed both Doe and Q.W. were involved in a plan to skip class on Nov. 3 and go into the woods behind the high school, where there would be some sort of sexual activity that they both were aware of. However, Doe maintained that while she was involved in that plan to skip, she ultimately backed out because she was more interested in a romantic relationship with Q.W. than in having a casual encounter.

Attorneys for the city and school board pointed out contradictions and inconsistences in Doe’s testimony versus what she said during interviews with police during a deposition two years prior.

School board attorneys asked about her understanding of Title IX, since her lawsuit claims CMS didn’t properly investigate her claims of being sexually assaulted on campus. Her response: “Title IX protects students.”

Doe testified that she has suffered from severe depression, and suicidal thoughts, saying CMS should be held responsible for that. However, the CMS attorney got her to acknowledge she didn’t receive counseling until two years after the alleged assault, that she got married in 2018, and had a baby in 2021.

Witnesses called

On Tuesday, Doe’s attorney called a number of witnesses, including four former Myers Park students.

One of them, identified as “S.B.,” was in tears as she took the stand to talk about her own sex assault on campus, and her allegation that school administrators dissuaded her from reporting the assault to law enforcement.

The defendants’ side countered, getting S.B. to admit she went to the woods to make out with someone she had been dating, and did not know it would go that far.

The deposition for former Myers Park principal Mark Bosco was also read in court Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Doe’s mom took the stand, giving about two hours of testimony. She talked about the texts she received from her daughter saying she had been kidnapped, and later, that she had been attacked in the woods. Her mom spoke about the emotional trauma the incident caused her and her daughter.

Doe’s mom, identified as Mrs. Doe, said she was frustrated the school resource officer spent more time talking to her daughter on campus rather than taking her to the hospital. Mrs. Doe also said she felt school officials had already come to the conclusion early on that her daughter skipped class with her alleged attacker, that no assault happened, and that a report had been taken.

Those conclusions are why Mrs. Doe said she decided not to let school officials interview her daughter.

In their cross-examination of Mrs. Doe, attorneys for CMS pointed out differences between her July 2020 deposition and her testimony Wednesday -- mainly that there were things she said Wednesday that she did not share in the original deposition. She also admitted she didn’t return a voicemail from the Myers Park principal in the days after the attack.

Channel 9′s Jonathan Lowe reported the main thing that stuck out from the cross-examination was about the core of the lawsuit, which alleges a deliberate indifference from the defendants about Doe’s sexual assault claims, and that the two groups mishandled the investigation. But the prosecution asked how the plaintiffs could make that allegation when the mom’s testimony revealed new information for the first time. They also said their claims are at odds with the fact that she didn’t return calls from the school.

Lowe stepped back into court as the hospital nurse who examined Jane Doe took the stand just before noon Wednesday.

Doe’s attorneys plan to call her to the stand on Thursday. Doe’s mother said she’s never had a conversation with her daughter about the details of the alleged assault seven years ago. She said her focus has been making sure her daughter is OK, and that she thought her daughter would talk to her when she was ready.

But her daughter’s testimony is what will be front and center for most -- if not all -- of the day Thursday.

Opening arguments

Doe’s attorneys began their opening statements Tuesday afternoon.

In their statements, Doe’s attorney said school administrators were “deliberately indifferent” about Doe’s reported kidnapping and sex assault, and said they failed to protect her and dissuaded her from pursing a criminal investigation.

They also claimed the City of Charlotte was negligent in the hiring, retention and training of the school resource officer who responded to the incident.

An attorney for the City of Charlotte argued the officer did everything he was supposed to do to investigate. The attorney said Doe didn’t report the assault until after she got home, and that she had initially told the SRO during an interview that she was OK.

The city’s attorney said when Doe’s mother called the school and said Doe had been raped, the officer took a report. The officer pursued the report, according to the attorney, and he reached out to sex assault detectives who told him no force was used, so it didn’t raise to the level of sexual assault. The attorney said he did everything he was supposed to do.

An attorney for the CMS Board of Education denied Doe’s claims, saying their response was reasonable. They said the district took measures to investigate in order to end further harassment.

The school board’s attorney said texts show Doe and the student she’s accusing of rape had a relationship, and said they had plans to skip school that day. The attorney said there was no evidence to substantiate a forced encounter.

The attorney also said Doe willingly left campus on her own, and said the two went to a location a mile away from campus.

Jury selected

On Tuesday, eight jurors were selected to decide the case. The jury was made up of six white men and two Black women. The jurors were asked a series of questions related to how potential jurors will make decisions.

Because of the way the courtroom is set up, the witness box directly faces the jury box. That was an intentional decision to make the jury the center of any jury trial.

During the trial, Jane Doe, her parents, and former Myers Park principal Mark Bosco are expected to take the stand, as well as CMPD officers, sex assault detectives and former Myers Park students.

The judge told jurors Tuesday the case can be summed up by the following allegations: That Jane Doe was kidnapped and sexually assaulted near Myers Park High’s campus, that the CMS Board of Education violated Title IX, and that the City of Charlotte employed the CMPD officer who failed to do an adequate investigation.

Federal court records show the parties involved in the lawsuit “reached an impasse” on Nov. 30.

Doe’s is one of three sexual assault lawsuits that have been filed against CMS. Two other former Myers Park High students filed lawsuits in Dec. 2019 and in June 2022, claiming their cases weren’t properly investigated.

Doe says CMS and the City of Charlotte, which hires police officers who serve as school resource officers, are responsible for, “the lack of training (that) left school officials at CMS/police officers unequipped to prohibit or discourage readily foreseeable conduct, despite the clearly established and well-known dangers of sexual harassment and violence in public schools, and at MPHS in particular,” according to court papers.

The judge expects the trial to last a week.

In an effort to better respond to reports of sexual harassment and assault, CMS launched a Title IX task force. The task force issued a 30-page report in Dec. 2021 with a list of recommendations for district leaders. Those included creating a safe space for students to report incidents and having clearer communication between students and administrators. The task force also recommended the district work together with law enforcement during investigations.

“We have worked very closely with our legal department, with local law enforcement to make sure that we are clear on how we report and handle all cases, and when we hand the ball off when it’s a serious offense,” said Crystal Hill, CMS interim superintendent.

Hill did not comment on the court case.

“We do not comment on litigation, so there’s no comment for that,” Hill said.

(PREVIOUS: Former Myers Park HS student’s sex assault case scheduled for trial Tuesday)

Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.

Comments on this article