Sunday, November 15, 2009

FL: New talk of abuse at Walker emerges

Published: November 14, 2009

Updated: 11/14/2009 12:23 am

TAMPA - Around the same time period a Walker Middle School flag football player became the alleged victim of sexual assaults by his teammates, a special-needs student was molested by her classmates, according to her lawyer.

The alleged sexual assault of the 13-year-old girl is unrelated to the high-profile case of the football players.

The girl was sexually assaulted by other students between February and May this year, according to a notice of intent to sue sent to the Hillsborough County school district by attorney James Adams Jr.

The girl, who has cognitive and hearing impairments, was molested by her classmates on a school bus while a school supervisor was at least five rows away, said Tampa attorney Chris Knopik, who is working with Adams on the case.

The bus driver and an aide who works with special-needs students were also on the bus, Knopik said.

Another incident allegedly occurred in a boys' restroom at the school, Knopik said.

The bus driver and aide who were supposed to be supervising the students have been reassigned, school district spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

The school district's investigation is ongoing.

Attorneys for the girl say her parents went to see school security officers and administrators. The parents felt their complaints were waved off and ignored, Knopik said.

When school officials were notified of the alleged incidents, the district turned the information over to law enforcement, Hegarty said.

Two boys and a girl admitted to sexual acts on the bus, the Hillsborough sheriff's office said. Upon further investigation, none of the parents of the students involved wanted to prosecute, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

As far as the criminal investigation goes, it ended when the parents waived prosecution, she said.

The sheriff's office does not know if the girl on the bus is the same as the one whose parents have filed the intent to sue, Carter said. The agency would not confirm it anyway, because this is a sexual battery case.

A separate investigation by the sheriff's child protection services department took place between May 8 and June 22, Carter said, but the sheriff's office does not have access to that report.

Knopik said he is not aware of any arrests being made or charges filed.

The girl has transferred to another school.

The notice of intent to sue was filed in May. Florida law requires claimants to give government agencies six months' notice of a lawsuit.

The girl's attorneys have not received a response from the school district, Knopik said. "It's not uncommon," he said. "It's conceivable that the response could be going out in the mail today" and that he and Adams may get it after the weekend. But if it does not arrive, Knopik said he and Adams are prepared to pursue a full civil lawsuit against the district.

"The parents' desire to seek justice and to hold the school board accountable is, of course, focused exclusively on what happens to their daughter," Knopik said. "But I think anyone who is familiar with the other case and then hears this case, it has to raise concerns in the minds of parents and the public at large about what is going on at Walker Middle School."

The Odessa school first made headlines in June when four flag football players were arrested and charged with four counts each of sexual battery.

Authorities say Diemante Roberts, 15, and Lee Louis Myers, Raymond A. Price-Murray and Randall John Moye, all 14, bullied a teammate for weeks in March and April before sexually assaulting him in a school locker room.

All four defendants are charged as adults. They have pleaded not guilty and have since been released on bail. While they await trial, the teens must wear court-ordered GPS tracking monitors.

A status conference in this case is set for Jan. 14.

News Channel 8 photographer Kate Caldwell and Tribune editor Howard Altman contributed to this report. Tribune reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813) 259-7920. News Channel 8 reporter Samara Sodos can be reached at (813) 314-5379.

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