I am filled with mixed emotions today. I was able to announce the resolution of a four year old federal court lawsuit brought on behalf of a young girl named Katerria and her family arising from Katerria’s rape by her high school teacher. Yet the day is only bittersweet for the family and I. After all, she was the victim of a horrible crime by a trusted adult when she was only 15 years old. The litigation itself was a roller-coaster; at one point we had to appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals- one level below the United States Supreme Court- because her case was dismissed by the trial court. Yes, it resulted in a landmark decision that will ultimately lead to the protection of public school students across the United States, and yes, I was able to obtain a substantial monetary settlement on her behalf, but it is not as if those things will erase the memory of what happened to her.
What tempers my happiness the most is the anger and frustration I feel as a father and a child advocate about how easily this entire ordeal could have been prevented. The teacher in question had been the subject of two prior allegations of impropriety with female students. He had been accused of making sexually harassing comments to one and touching the other under her clothes. Yet school administrators put him back in his classroom each time, choosing to believe his version of events over those of two girls who had no apparent reason to lie about what happened to them. In depositions, school administrators told us that in “he said-she said” situations involving teachers and students, they would believe the teachers. So there he was, unpunished, emboldened and able to prey upon the young girl who would ultimately become my client.
In the end, after four long years of criminal and civil litigation, the philosophy of protecting the accused predator above children cost the school board dearly. But it cost my client much more than that. Maybe next time they will think about that and err on the side of caution. The potential victims who are ultimately protected and never harmed would appreciate it.