Note: This story contains descriptions of sexual violence and adult language that may be upsetting to some.
SHERMAN — Testimony continued with the woman at the center of a federal civil lawsuit against Lewisville ISD taking the stand again on Friday, March 17. The 19-year-old plaintiff said she was raped at an off-campus party in late September 2012. At the time she was a 14-year-old freshman at Hebron 9th Grade Campus in Lewisville ISD. She said that the district failed to properly investigate the incident as required under Title IX and that she suffered mental anguish from the district’s failure to protect her from subsequent bullying.
The trial started Monday, March 13 and has continued each following day in the Federal Courthouse Annex inside the Chase Bank building in downtown Sherman.
The woman was the first to take the stand Friday, following her Thursday testimony. The Lewisville Texan Journal is not identifying the plaintiff because of her status as a sexual assault victim and because she was a minor at the time of the incident. A psychiatrist and a former LISD administrator also testified Friday.
The attorney for Lewisville ISD Tom Brandt began by asking the plaintiff if she had attended a Hebron football game on Oct. 12, 2012 and who she was with. She answered that she had, and she was with two other girls. One was the girl whose home she was supposed to be at for a sleepover the night the two went to the party where the incident occurred.
Brandt asked the plaintiff whether it was correct that she did not personally report the sexual assault to LISD, but that her parents did. “I was a minor,” she said. “My parents did that on my behalf.”
She explained that she was suicidal at the time and didn’t even want to leave the house. She said she did eventually report it to then-Assistant Principal Amanda Werneke. She said the family obtained a lawyer and met with the LISD personnel. At the meeting lawyers presented LISD and their lawyer with a Powerpoint presentation.
Brandt asked whether there was any other time that she personally reported anything to LISD personnel. She stated that there was a time when she talked to her cheer coach Courtney Kennedy about being bullied.
She described how another student on the cheerleading squad, who she said was friends with one of the attackers, told her she should kill herself. She said other cheerleaders had bullied her and that it happened on the week that she returned to school after the rape. She said that she had informed Kennedy about the bullying but not the rape. Kennedy said she would take care of the situation. The girl said that the other cheerleaders somehow found out that she had talked to the coach, and said things like “snitches get stitches” and “snitches are bitches.”
She said this made it much worse for her. “I felt like nobody would do anything, so I should keep it to myself,” she said.
Brandt asked if she went back to the coach after that. She said that she did not, because Kennedy didn’t take it seriously. “What would make me think she would help me?” she asked.
“Did you talk to anyone else in LISD?” Brandt asked. The girl said that she hadn’t, but that her mother had done so on her behalf. “I didn’t think anyone would listen to me,” she said. Of Werneke, counselor Debra Whitehead, Officer Langston and Principal Dalton, the plaintiff accused them all of “kicking it under the rug.”
Brandt began questioning the woman about her retaliation claims, whether she reported any retaliation from teachers or LISD administrators and whether she was aware of her parents reporting any retaliation.
The plaintiff explained that she did not report it because she was being bullied so severely and was doing the best she could.
Brandt followed up, asking if her parents reported it.
The girl said they initially thought that Dalton and Werneke would take care of them. She said they didn’t know who they would report it to or what to do. The family got a lawyer as soon as they realized nothing would be done, she said.
“We thought her boss wouldn’t do anything,” she said, pointing at Werneke.
Brandt questioned the plaintiff about when she realized that she was being retaliated against. He asked if it was in April of 2013 when the district completed its investigation, determining it was inconclusive about whether a sexual assault had taken place.
In turn she asked him whether that was the bullying or the rape investigation. She said LISD didn’t do a sexual assault investigation because the police told them not to. She asked, “When did you start back up?” in regards to the investigation. He answered that prior testimony had stated January 7 or 8 of 2013. She then asked him to repeat the question, and Brandt said he could not remember what he had asked.
Brandt asked if they had lost faith when the conclusion to the investigation came April 5, 2013. She said they lost faith way before that.
“But we had hope,” she said.
She said the family determined LISD was retaliating when her mom had told LISD personnel specific names, and nothing was done. “That letter you sent us was confirmation,” she said.
Brandt asked her if there was a watershed moment or “aha” moment and whether she felt it was retaliation because of the findings. She said “No, because you did nothing about bullying. You didn’t care about me as an individual.”
She said the report that the school sent was about bullying, not the sexual assault, and that it said there was no bullying. She said the administrators could have simply walked the halls and asked any student about it, or could have talked to her about it. At this point, the woman’s voice began to break up. Brandt asked her if it was in April of 2013. She responded that it was whenever her parents told her the report found no bullying.
The woman testified that someone with a Twitter account name that included the word “Hebron” posted about her and tagged her account. The tweet said she “got fu**ed in the front yard in every hole.” She said that she was crushed by that. She said that 200 people tried to follow her, and she ended up deleting her account. The district was provided with a list of names of students she thought were involved.
Brandt asked her, “You realize two of those were prosecuted?”
She asked him “What do you mean?” The defense team showed the court a document naming nearly a full page of students. Each of the student names had been redacted. The plaintiff began asking what names were on the list and asked about the two alleged attackers. Brandt was not able to provide the names. He asked her again if she was aware of a prosecution. She said, “No.”
One by one, Brandt asked her about LISD employees and what the woman thought constituted each of their retaliations toward her.
For Dalton, she said she had never spoken to him, and that he would not return phone calls and didn’t act like he cared. For Whitehead, she said that the counselor did not seem to know about Title IX and that she didn’t know about student rights. She said that Whitehead didn’t do anything.
Brandt asked her if she was saying that Whitehead was ignorant, uncaring and incompetent. Plaintiff’s attorney, Charla Aldous, objected, and Judge Ron Clark sustained it, asking the jury to only remember what the witness herself said, rather than Brandt’s characterization.
The plaintiff said, “I would like to answer that.”
She said she didn’t know Whitehead personally, and didn’t want to bash her, but from her experience she did not know her job. Brandt said “Simply incompetent?” Aldous objected again that he was badgering her, and Judge Clark sustained it.
Brandt asked her about Coach Brian Brazil’s retaliation. She said she felt he had acted in the best interest of the football players. She said she thought he disbelieved her and looked down on her.
He then asked the woman about why she thought Werneke’s actions were retaliation. She answered that she had already answered that in prior testimony. An objection by Aldous was overruled, and the girl then answered that Werneke never reached out to her, and she felt she didn’t care. She said that in the conference that she had when the family brought a lawyer and she had been suicidal, she felt like Werneke was looking through her.
“Why would I be suicidal and not return [to school] if it was not bullying?” she asked. “That was retaliation against me as a human.” The woman began crying again as she said that Werneke never got back to her parents, did nothing and gave no apology.
Brandt asked her why she thought that Dalton did nothing. She replied that she would still like to know that.
He followed up asking who she reported these people to that were above them.
“I was 14 and hurting,” said the plaintiff. “My first idea was to give up. Once we lawyered up — if Werneke’s boss wasn’t there at that meeting, why would I think they would care?”
Brandt asked about her parents and if they reported it to anyone.
“We were in crisis mode,” she said. “They were trying to keep me alive.”
Aldous then began asking questions of her client. She asked about the workload that she was given once she left school and was placed in the homebound program. The program sends student work to the student’s home for completion outside of the school.
The girl explained that she was in that because she wanted to stay involved in Hebron. She said that she was overloaded with work, given the fact that she was undergoing counseling and trying to get in with the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.
Through tears, she explained that she asked to reduce the workload, which she felt was a full load. She said she felt like she wasn’t learning anything and she was panicked. She said she had been planning on going to college, but now due to the setback, she couldn’t pass some math tests.
The next witness to testify was psychiatrist Dr. Roger Pittman, an expert witness brought by the plaintiff. In 2016, her parents took her to be evaluated by him.
Pittman works at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He has been practicing for 48 years and is a faculty member at Harvard Medical School.
He said he evaluated the plaintiff on Jan. 28, 2016, talking to her for four and a half hours.
He told the court that he took an account from her, and she told him about what she recalled from the night of the party. Referring to his notes, he said that she told him about the party, that alcohol and suspected drugging were involved and that she became disoriented and blacked out.
Pittman said she told him about boys putting their penises in her mouth and that at one point she remembered lying on the ground with the boys trying to get their hands on her breasts. He said that she remembered them then trying to have sex with her. She remembers a stabbing pain in her vagina. She later discovered blood in her underwear.
Pittman said that the client had been ashamed and that she didn’t tell anyone for a couple of weeks. He said that she told him the boy had shown up to school wearing shorts stained with her blood and was telling people that it was her “popped cherry.” Pittman said that she told him other students were blaming her for the situation.
He said she had gone in for a hospital exam and had gone to the Dallas Rape Crisis Center.
Pittman said that the plaintiff’s symptoms as evaluated by him were certainly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He said her flashbacks and her getting upset when reminded of the incident were part of the four major classes of symptoms that doctors use to diagnose PTSD.
When questioned by Aldous, Pittman explained that all four criteria must be met to get a PTSD diagnosis, and the plaintiff suffered enough symptoms in each of the criteria to warrant a severe range at the time he saw her in 2016. Evaluating her symptoms reported just after the alleged rape, he said she was in the extreme range at that point. He said she had also lost 25 pounds and was severely depressed at the time of the incident, but she was in remission for the depression when he saw her.
Aldous asked what else Pittman had looked at, and he said he had looked at her medical history, family history and personal history. He said she was close to her mother, and described her relationship with her father as contentious. He said that the plaintiff had graduated from a local charter school, but she was dubious about college and was thinking about a cosmetology program.
Aldous asked Pittman about what kind of testing that he had done on the plaintiff, and he explained that he did testing with both a questionnaire and with psychophysiological testing.
The questionnaire, he explained, was a 364-question computer-scored test that the plaintiff took that is graded by a computer program. He said that the test diagnosed her with PTSD, and the test looks for evidence of a subject’s exaggeration of symptoms, and that it found none.
The lab test, he said, involved the plaintiff calling him prior and telling him various personal experiences that were traumatic or that had other emotions. For each story, he wrote a script of 100 to 125 words. These five scripts he wrote were added to six other standard scripts. A voice recording was made to read each script audibly. Later in the lab, she was hooked to electrodes to measure skin conductivity, heart rate and facial muscle movement. He showed the court charts from that testing showing her physiological responses to the telling of those items, compared to responses from other people who had PTSD versus some who did not have PTSD.
Her answers were closer on the charts to those with PTSD. Pittman said it was his opinion she had PTSD. He said that the results supported her claims. He said that approximately 30 percent of people are able to make similar results without having PTSD.
Pittman then explained that he talked to the plaintiff and evaluated her that way. He said that her behavior was not consistent with faking or exaggeration. He said she was anxious and despondent, reluctant to talk, cried and begged him not to have to talk. He said she pleaded to be allowed to go home. He said he also interviewed her mother for an hour.
Aldous asked Pittman based on everything, what his diagnosis was. He said she had severe PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder.
Aldous asked him whether he believed 80 percent of the plaintiff’s harm related to the bullying she received at school, and Pittman said he wouldn’t believe that. “I think the problem was the rape,” he said. He did agree that bullying made it worse.
Pittman testified that in his line of work, they do not use the word “cure” with regard to PTSD — only recovery. He said that bullying exacerbated the PTSD but did not cause it.
Aldous asked him whether the school’s refusal to act would have an effect. He answered the notion of a support system is important and that a lack of support would make recovery harder.
Aldous asked about the plaintiff’s prognosis and whether there was a treatment plan. Pittman said that he thought she would get better with time, and he still thought she needed intensive psychotherapy, medication and possibly some inpatient treatment. He said that he estimated $55,000 to $60,000 in costs for therapy, and that an inpatient program might cost $40,000 to $45,000.
After a short recess, Brandt questioned Pittman for the defense. He started by asking Pittman if the mental anguish was caused by the rape. Pittman said that it was PTSD, not mental anguish. Brandt asked him if he thought the figure of 80 percent of the mental anguish being caused by bullying was too high. Pittman agreed, though still seeming to object to the use of the term “anguish.”
Aldous asked about the difference, and Pittman said mental anguish was not a medical term but a legal one. This brought an objection from the defense, but the judge allowed it. Pittman explained that PTSD can be a source of anguish.
Aldous asked him what number would be more realistic to say that bullying caused. Reading from his report, he said, “Bullying substantially contributed to post-incident intense prolonged distress and contributed to major depressive disorder.”
Brandt asked Pittman, “Never once does the word retaliation appear in your report?” Pittman agreed.
Former zone leader testifies
Former LISD East Zone Leader Rebecca McDonald took the stand for the defense. She had retired from the district after working at LISD for 17 years. As east zone leader, she was in charge of 24 schools that fed Hebron High School and The Colony High School.
Brandt asked her if she was aware of the case, and she said she had been. She said she had been advised in October of 2012 that sexual assault allegations were made and that bullying was taking place. She said she had been directly involved in the response but not face-to-face. She said that was the job of the Hebron administration. She said that she supervised and spoke to them many times and had spoken to attorneys.
McDonald testified that she had been involved in the final determination in that case, along with Rogers, the district’s attorney Randy Gibbs, Hebron staff and then-Superintendent Dr. Stephen Waddell.
Brandt asked her about what she had been told about Carrollton Police Department in relation to the incident. McDonald said that CPD had asked them to hold off on the district’s investigation until CPD was complete with theirs.
Brandt asked her if she agreed with the decision even though district policy said not to delay the investigation. She said that she did agree because it was a very serious allegation, and she didn’t want the district’s actions to harm the process.
Asked when the district was given authorization to proceed, she told him it was in December, sometime close to the holiday break, but only with regards to the alcohol involved. She explained that as student athletes, the boys were held to a higher standard under an extracurricular code of conduct.
Brandt showed an email to the court from McDonald to Rogers on Nov. 2, 2012 informing him of the status of the girl’s case, as well as another rape that had happened around that time where a Hebron High School Junior was accused of raping a girl from Marcus High School.
McDonald was asked about her involvement in forming the conclusion of the sexual assault investigation. She responded that they couldn’t determine that it had occurred but also stated that they are not police and could only interview students. The finding, she agreed, was not saying that it didn’t happen.
Regarding the cyberbullying, McDonald said that Werneke followed protocol, which included an interview, parent discussion and a cease and desist order. She said Werneke followed up on every allegation.
McDonald told the court that she was aware of the retaliation claim. “All I can tell you is that the Hebron admin team worked tirelessly,” she said. She referred to the volumes of information collected, and numerous interviews with students. “So to think they retaliated? They did the opposite,” she said.
McDonald said that Werneke worked with the plaintiff’s teachers to get the minimum workload for her.
“It almost hurts my feelings,” she told Brandt. “I saw the opposite — helping a young lady in trouble.”
Brandt asked if she was upset about the sexual assault claim that the plaintiff made. McDonald said that she was upset that it could have happened but not upset that it was reported.
Aldous questioned McDonald about the importance and prominence of athletics at Hebron and the role they play. McDonald admitted they were important but more for students than for the school.
That’s when Aldous had McDonald look at a note in one of the exhibits. “Is that your handwriting?” she asked.
After finding a pair of glasses, McDonald admitted it was hers.
Aldous asked where McDonald had put the note before retiring. McDonald said she couldn’t remember. Aldous brought up that at a deposition, Dr. Rogers had said he found it in a box. She asked McDonald if she thought a report of rape was important. She asked why it hadn’t been in the student’s file.
Aldous showed the court the handwritten notes, which had at the top that the mother had reported the rape two weeks prior. The notes had the words “Believe rape in doubt,” and “Question whether it was consensual.”
After some back and forth, McDonald said that the notes had been taken when she talked to someone on the Hebron staff, but that she couldn’t recall who told her those things.
Aldous noted that by the timing of the note, it would appear that the doubt was there before the girl was interviewed by LISD administrators. “You wrote this before you even talked to her,” said Aldous.
Further in the notes, it was written that the mother took the her to Children’s Hospital, where PTSD was diagnosed. It said she probably wouldn’t be back until the next year.
Aldous questioned McDonald’s doubt since she knew of the diagnosis.
“Do you think a 14-year-old would have PTSD from consensual sex?” she asked McDonald. “I don’t know,” she answered.
Aldous then briefly questioned McDonald about a document where it appeared she was informing then-Superintendent Waddell about the rape case, but McDonald clarified it was for a different rape case.
Clark advised the jury that he would take the document as evidence, but told the jury not to construe the other rape to affect this case but that they could only use it with regards to timing.
Testimony ended just after 12:30 p.m., with Judge Clark calling for a recess until 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Clark said he expects that testimony will wrap up on Monday, with further motions taking place that afternoon. He said he expects the jury will be given their charge and instructions Tuesday.