A $5 million federal lawsuit accuses the Clatskanie School District and Principal Jeff Baughman of knowing about bullying and “sextortion” of girls and doing nothing to stop it — even after two girls attempted suicide.
The lawsuit was filed in Portland late Tuesday afternoon. Neither the school district nor Baughman have been served yet and neither could be reached for comment Tuesday night. School board Chairman Michael Moravec had no formal comment Tuesday, saying he had not yet seen the lawsuit.
The suit was filed by Josi Harrison, Allysun Harkleroad and Laura Lefebvre and their mothers. The Daily News normally doesn’t use minors’ names, but the three girls have agreed to be identified.
The suit contains allegations similar to those in a state case Josi Harrison and her parents filed in June against her alleged abusers and their parents. This case, though, was filed in federal court and alleges federal civil rights laws were violated.
The lawsuit, filed by California lawyer Amber Lunsford, lists events that stretched from 2009 into this year. The three girls were 11 and 12 when the alleged bullying began.
All three girls say that boys at Clatskanie Middle/High School physically bullied them and coerced them into sending nude photos of themselves. The suit says the boys traded the pictures like baseball cards and that there was a competition for who could get the most photos of girls at the school.
The lawsuit also alleges that Baughman and others at the district knew about the pictures and did nothing to punish the boys or warn girls about the situation. Instead, the lawsuit states, the girls are often ostracized or ignored, even when their parents complained to school officials and police. In some cases the girls were told they could attend an inferior, online school to get away from the bullying, which the lawsuit says damaged their education.
The girls were traumatized, the suit said, and Allysun Harkleroad and Laura Lefebvre each have attempted suicide. Josi Harrison said she suffered heart problems from the stress and had to have surgery. All three girls eventually transferred out of the district or moved away to avoid the alleged harassment.
The lawsuit also includes allegations that police did not properly investigate or stop the sextortion. The police department is not named as a defendant, but two officers who teach a course at the high school are used as examples that district officials knew of the alleged abuse.
The suit states that initially, middle school and high school students were kept separate while at the school to prevent problems. Once Baughman became dean of students and then principal, though, the lawsuit claims those protections were done away with. It adds that male students were given “frequent and unrestricted access to the girls’ locker room” and that there was a “cavalier attitude toward bullying, especially towards bullying by male students directed at female students.” The lawsuit claims district officials met with some boys about the pending state lawsuit, which led to boys allegedly harassing potential witnesses.
Baughman was a boys basketball coach. Under his leadership “a culture developed in the school wherein male athletes ruled the school,” and could “act with impunity and without fear of discipline,” the lawsuit states.
In Allysun Harkleroad’s case, she transferred to the Rainier School District to get away from her alleged stalker, only to have the boy be transferred there as well after he was accused of attempting to rape Josi Harrison. The lawsuit states that Rainier officials were never warned by Clatskanie officials about the allegations and pending criminal charges against the boy.
The state case has received national attention, with Harrison appearing on the Today Show in September. A lawyer for some of the defendants says there’s another side to the story and warned against believing everything in the legal complaint.
The school district, in the state case, issued a statement saying school officials protect all students’ safety but can’t comment directly on the case. City officials say police did investigate the allegations and called in the Oregon State Police. One student was charged in the sexual assault and admitted or didn’t contest to lesser charges of unwanted touching and public indecency. For other allegations, though, there wasn’t enough evidence, city officials said.