Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TN: School board hit with $3M suit

Lawyer says autistic teen raped on bus by alleged sexual offender
By Jamie Satterfield (Contact)Tuesday, October 28, 2008


See Related Story: School, Girl's Attorney Clash Over Offenders Presence at Halls

An 18-year-old accused "predator" pressed his pretend earpiece and threatened the naive autistic girl with an attack from occupants of the car trailing the Knox County school bus - ferrying special education students unsupervised - unless she complied with his sexual demands, a lawsuit alleges.

The Knox County Board of Education has been slapped with a $3 million civil-rights lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, in connection with the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism marked by severe social dysfunction, by an alleged sex offender whose court-appointed guardian had deemed him too dangerous to go unsupervised.

Yet, the pair wound up on the same bus in August with no adult supervision save the bus driver, and the girl was the lone female on the bus full of "rowdy" special education students, the lawsuit alleged.

Attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the 14-year-old girl, said the boy has been labeled in court records as a sexual predator and was being transported to a sex offender treatment program at Halls High School when the alleged rape occurred.

"It is unconscionable that as a condition of her education, this disabled 14-year-old was forced to ride in a Knox County school bus with an 18-year-old known sexual predator who was unsupervised," Isaacs said. "The consequences were unfortunately very foreseeable. Our investigation has determined that after this unfortunate incident, this (male teenager) is now being transported alone."

Schools spokesman Russ Oaks declined comment, citing the pending legal battle.

According to the lawsuit, bus owner Stanley Rudder had warned Knox County school officials the girl, identified only as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, "would not make it two days" on a special education bus crammed with "rowdy" troubled boys.

His prediction proved correct, with the girl immediately being subjected to sexual harassment on the bus, the lawsuit alleged. Her mother complained to school officials to no avail, Isaacs wrote.

Meanwhile, Knox County Juvenile Court officials were worried about the supervision of an 18-year-old boy who was being transported on the bus to attend sex offender treatment classes at Halls High School, and his guardian warned against leaving the teenager alone with other students, according to the lawsuit.

"The 18-year-old male student was in therapy for a sex crime related matter and has been characterized as a sexual predator," Isaacs wrote.

The teenager is identified only as John Doe. Police records indicate the teenager's alleged sexual assault of the autistic girl is under criminal probe, but a spokesman for the Knox County District Attorney's Office was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon.

According to the lawsuit, the alleged sexual predator plotted an attack on the girl, taking advantage of her autism and inability to recognize deception.

"In a calculated manner, the male student pretended to have an earpiece that enabled him to communicate with the persons in the other vehicle in order to deceive and frighten the autistic (girl)," the lawsuit stated. "The 18-year-old male student terrified (the girl) into believing that she would be harmed by the persons in the other vehicle if she did not let the male student fondle her and sexually assault and batter her person."

The lawsuit alleges the teenage boy admitted raping the girl and was unrepentant about the attack.

Jamie Satterfield may be reached at 865-342-6308.

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