Broward School Board settlement press conference

Jeff Herman: Good afternoon, my name is Jeff Herman, J-E-F-F H-E-R-M-A-N. I’m with the law firm of Herman, Mermelstein, and Horowitz. And I’m pleased to be her today to announce the settlement of a case on behalf of my client against the Broward County School Board. The case settled for a million dollars, and it has to do with a sexual assault that took place upon my client when she was 15 years old, attending high school in Broward County.

And this case, I think, is important for a number of reasons. Number one, when my client came to see me a few years ago, she was a 15 year old girl who had just been raped by her math teacher. She was scared, she was hurt, and she was suffering, like a lot of kids out there are doing. But this case is an example of her parents doing everything right to help their child heal. What they did is they participated in the criminal proceeding, where the perpetrator was convicted to 15 years in jail. Number two, they pursued civil charges, a civil case against the school board, which is very empowering to a victim. It exposes the predator and the institutions that protect the predator. And number three, they got her professional therapy.

Those three things combined, I believe, allowed this courageous young woman next to me to go from being a victim to a survivor, and she’s going to make a couple statements here today. And so this, to me, is an example of doing the right things when a child’s abused to help them heal. The other thing is, is that this settlement of a million dollars, I hope it sends a message to institutions who are charged with protecting kids. And that message is that there were red flags here, which were ignored. When there are red flags, the institutions that are charged with responsibility to take care of our kids need to react and do the right thing. If they don’t, they’ll end up paying for it in the long run.

I hope that they act because it’s the right thing to do to protect kids, but if they don’t, they are going to be held accountable, and this is an example of that. And so, with that, she’s going to use her name, her name is Katerria, K-A-T-E-R-R-I-A. She’s willing to use her name today because she wants other young girls, other women, to feel empowered by her example, to get help, and to begin the road to healing if something horrible like that happens to them. And so…

Man: Can you move the mics over?

Jeff Herman: Yeah, I’m just going to slide her down.

Man: Okay.

Jeff Herman: Okay. We’ll take questions afterwards.

[inaudible 00:02:48]

Jeff Herman: Okay. Katerria?

Katerria: I just want to start by saying I want to give all the praise and honor to the man up above, because without him we wouldn’t have got over this. I do want to thank all my family and friends who stood by me through this rough road, because it really was rough. Had a lot of headaches, dreams, everything, but with them, my best friends, my grandma, most of all Jeffrey, I was able to overcome all of this. I mean, it’s not gonna make it go away, but at least we do get some closure. And I do want to encourage all the rape victims to come forward. You’re not alone. There is someone out there to hear you and to help you, so I just want to encourage you to come forward and let your voices be heard.

Man: Was this tough for you? To come forward and be here today?

Katerria: Yes, it was very tough, but I have a lot of work with my family, and a lot of help. They let me know that they have my back no matter what, but it was very tough.

Woman: Katerria, you’re 19 now?

Katerria: Yes, ma’am.

Woman: Okay, and you graduated last year?

Katerria: Yes.

Man: From Ely? You stayed there?

Katerria: Plantation High School.

Woman: Plantation High. And so, what are your plans now? Talk to us about what your life is like today.

Katerria: Well, I do work full-time now, but now I just wanna go ahead and help myself through law school and get me and my son settled in a place, and continue to get counseling and everything.

Woman: How old is your son?

Katerria: He’ll be two soon. Yes.

Man: So, you’re planning to go to college now?

Katerria: Yes, sir.

Man: And why do you want to be a lawyer?

Katerria: I’ve been wanting to be a lawyer way before the incident ever happened. I do… I just want to work with teens, though.

Man: Was it satisfying for you to see this man be convicted, sent to prison, and then see the school board settle the lawsuit as well?

Katerria: Yes, it was very satisfying.

Man: How did that help your healing process?

Katerria: I’m still healing. I’m not going to say it’s done and over yet, but it helped…it closed a little more. I still think about it, I’m not going to forget about it, but I am glad that he is behind bars.

Man: And what would you say to other girls, especially, who may be afraid to come forward and say something about an authority figure, like a teacher who may have done something inappropriate like this, or in this case, really, really inappropriate? What would you say to these girls who are afraid to come forward?

Katerria: I would tell them not to be afraid. I was afraid at first. I wanted to, you know, just try to forget about it, but they shouldn’t be afraid, because in due time justice will be due.

Jeff Herman: Okay, I’m just going to slide back. I want to just comment briefly about the lawsuit itself, and some of the legal aspects, because I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people about the settlement, the amount, etc., because it was against a public school. In this case, what we alleged in this lawsuit was that there were two prior complaints against this teacher, Conrad Hoover, ever before Katerria had him in class. Two girls had complained that Hoover was inappropriate with them, that he touched them inappropriately, that he said inappropriate things to them, and both those girls complained to school officials, and nothing was done. Because of that, we were able to bring this claim, it’s what’s called a title 9 claim.

A title 9 claim, simply, is that everybody in this country has a right to an education, free of discrimination, and the right what’s called bodily integrity, which is you have a right to go to school without someone violating your body. And so, by bringing this case in federal court as a title 9 claim, it changed, I think, the dynamics of it, and it was a long, hard legal battle. I will say this, we had to make an appeal at one point, and got a very good ruling. And on behalf of Katerria, I would say there is a landmark decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals now that actually paves the way for other high school students who are assaulted in public schools to get justice. And so, this case closes for her, but I will tell you, in the future, there’s a lot of other kids who are gonna have justice available to them because of Katerria’s bravery.

Woman: Jeffrey, did officials at any point around this process try to explain or say why no action was taken when those complaints were filed against this teacher? Did they have any explanations for that?

Jeff Herman: Yes, in fact, what I was told in depositions by school officials is that this was a he said, she said situation, and that they typically believe the teacher, not the student. Which to me, as a child advocate, is quite alarming, and quite disturbing, because we know that to protect kids, you have to err on the side of caution, you have to empower kids, you have to believe in kids. And not to say every single complaint means you overreact, but you react, and you investigate, and you do the right things, and you have to protect children.

Man: How is this is similar to… You’ve done so many cases with priests. Is it similar that it’s an authority figure, and that kids are vulnerable because the authority figure knows that the kids are going to be afraid to say something?

Jeff Herman: Yeah, well, what’s similar to me about this case with clergy cases that I’ve handled is that the institutions find it easier to look the other way. Instead of taking the problem on, head on, and dealing with the perpetrator, it’s easier to pretend it didn’t happen and look the other way, and see what happens.

Man: Is that what happened in this case?

Jeff Herman: Yeah, that’s exactly what happened, I think, and of course, the result is disastrous, and disastrous, certainly, for Katerria for the rest of her life. Okay.

Woman: I know family member have been [inaudible 00:09:09] going to make a statement, but… Are these Katerria’s parents?

Jeff Herman: Yes.

Woman: Okay.

Jeff Herman: This is her mother and father. And who have been here with her the entire way, and as I said before, they should be applauded as parents for doing the right thing and standing up for their child. And I think the results are they have a very empowered young woman.

Woman: Anything that you would like to add or…

Man: Is there anything you wanna say to us, mom and dad?

Katerria’s Father: The settlement doesn’t…it doesn’t really…it brings closure but, I mean, it doesn’t change the fact that, you know, the events did occur to her. And it’s not going to make it go away, either. I’m just proud that she went forward with talking to you guys, and trying to reach out to other young teenagers that may have been molested and are scared to come forward.

Woman: How has this been like for your family?

Man: Can we move the mics closer to him?

Jeff Herman: Sure, I’ll tell you what, why don’t we slide… Just move them? Okay.

Katerria’s Father: It’s been very stressful. I mean, with the legal system there’s a lot of time you have to take off from work. She may not be feeling well. I can call her and she could be crying or just in a bad mood, and I know why. I try not to talk to her about it, because I don’t want to open up the wound again, but it’s been very stressful. I’m just glad we could put it all behind us now.

Man: Tell us again about how proud you are of your daughter and why you’re proud of her.

Katerria’s Father: Because she’s a survivor. I mean, she could have turned the cheek, walked the other way and she could have left out of that class room that day never saying anything. And had that happened, there’s no telling how many other young victims there would have been. So, I’m extremely proud of her.

Man: Your thoughts about something like this happening at the school?

Katerria’s Father: Yeah, well, I said way back when it happened, there’s two places your kids are supposed to be safe, and that’s school and church. If they can’t be safe at those places, then it’s terrible. There is a problem.

Man: Thanks for talking to us.

Man 2: Okay. What’s your name, sir?

Katerria’s Father: Derrick Cheaton [SP].

Man 2: What is your first name?

Katerria’s Father: Derrick.

Man: Gary?

Katerria’s Father: Derrick. D-E-R-R-I-C-K.

[Multiple speakers]

Jeff Herman: Don’t use his last name, just use his first name.