A wrongful death civil suit was filed today in San Jose against the three 16-year-old high school students charged with the sexual battery and cyberbullying of a fellow Saratoga High School female classmate.
One of the accused was attending Christopher High School in Gilroy when he was arrested Thursday morning by a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputy without incident.
Robert Allard, attorney for the parents of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, who committed suicide Sept. 10, just eight days after the alleged assault, announced the family’s intentions during an 11 a.m. news conference today at the Radisson Hotel on Fourth Street in San Jose.
With the deceased teenager’s mother, Sheila Pott, flanked to the right of the podium, along with Audrie's father Larry Pott and stepmother, Lisa Pott, to the left, Allard made it clear that Audrie’s suicide was a direct result of the assault on her at a Sept. 2 unsupervised house party and the harassment by the accused that followed.
“Audrie did not leave us a note, but she made her feelings abundantly clear in the messages we were left to find,” explained Pott’s stepmother. “There is absolutely no doubt as to the reason that Audrie took her life. The three people who were arrested are responsible for her death.”
Citing Audrie Pott’s Facebook page, Lisa Pott said there were messages stating: “My life is ruined,” “I can’t do anything to fix it,” and “I have a reputation for a night I don’t even remember and the whole school knows.”
The three accused teenagers are being charged with two felonies of sexual battery and possession and distributing harmful matter depicting the victim. They are also facing a sexual battery misdemeanor. It is yet to be determined whether the trio of 16-year-olds will be tried as adults or in juvenile court.
When the Dispatch asked Lisa Pott specifically about the one student who transferred from Saratoga to Christopher High, she said: “From what we know, he had had problems at previous schools and his parents had more than once switched schools when there has been a problem.”
Allard said the Pott family will be attending Tuesday’s detention hearing of the three suspects, where the juvenile court judge presiding over the case will decide at that time if the suspects will be released from custody.
Also included in the civil lawsuit are the homeowners of the house where the alleged attack took place.
In the same news conference, packed with local and national news outlets, Allard as well as the Pott family called for anyone — especially students at Saratoga High School — with any information or photographs distributed through text messaging to come forward.
“Another reason for filing this claim is that our investigation has been hampered by individuals not wanting to talk,” Allard explained. “These individuals will either give an interview voluntarily under penalty of perjury or be subjected to a subpoena compelling their testimony.”
Larry Pott, who was visibly shaken and had to pause several times while sharing his thoughts, added, “there is a difference between being a witness and being a suspect.”
Wearing a turquoise dress shirt and tie under his suit in honor of his daughter’s favorite color, Larry Pott begged for any students with evidence to contact authorities. He stated Saratoga High’s school newspaper reported that at least 10 students knew and had seen images of the attack on Audrie. He urged them to help with the case and, if not, asked their parents to persuade their children to come forward so nothing like this happens again.
“While the world was a far better place when Audrie was alive, it will be a far safer place if these young men are put behind bars and held responsible for their actions, which includes the reason Audrie is no longer with us,” he said.
In a similar case in Steubenville, Ohio, two high school football players were tried as juveniles and found guilty of penetrating a West Virginia girl with their fingers after an alcohol-fueled party. One was sentenced to at least a year and the other at least two years in the state juvenile detention center.
In Novia Scotia, Canada, a teenage girl committed suicide after allegedly being gang-raped and bullied in November of 2011. While she was recently laid to rest, her attackers have not yet been charged for lack of evidence, according to various news reports.
“These types of crimes are not juvenile. Sexual assault is an adult crime,” said Sheila Pott, who spoke with her daughter and tried to comfort her on the same day she took her own life.
“These boys distributed pictures to humiliate and further bully my daughter," Sheila continued. "If this can happen to my daughter, it can happen to anyone.”
Sheila said she thought her daughter tried to reach out to some of her friends about what had happened, but did not confide in any adults.
“I think if she did, she would still be with us,” said Sheila, who has helped set up the Audrie Pott Foundation with one of the goals being to provide counseling and education for suicide awareness and identifying the warning signs. “This was never on our radar.”
Even when Audrie called her mother from school earlier in the day Sept. 10 and said she “couldn’t do it anymore,” Sheila did not realize the seriousness of their conversation, the last between the mother and daughter before she tragically took her own life.
“I asked her, ‘What’s wrong? You can tell me,’” said Sheila, describing the final conversation with her daughter. “She just said, ‘I can’t do this. I’ve been doing it for two years mom and I can’t do it anymore.’”
Sheila continued to recall that she pleaded with her daughter to “just make it through one more day” and that she would “be there in just a couple of hours.”
However, that never happened as the distraught teenager — who her father described as “the wittiest-funniest kick-in-the-pants you would ever meet” with a “passion for art, music, soccer and the outdoors” — committed suicide at her family home in Saratoga.
“We miss her every day, but now we must carry on and share her story so that this epidemic of sexual assault and cyberbullying bullying amongst teens can be exposed and stopped,” Larry said.
Answering questions from reporters, the family offered details, such as the fact the three suspects have a long, troubled history that will be brought to light in the coming days and that the accused were sober during their assault on their unconscious friend who they’d known since middle school.
“We didn’t know them but we knew their reputation,” proclaimed Pott’s father who forbid his daughter to hang out with them, although the boys shared the same friends with her. “They have a reputation. Believe me, that will come out. They have a very long, bad, sordid reputation.”
The family also stated that all three accused teenagers had been removed from the Saratoga High football team by the school principal at the end of September. The fact that they were not expelled from school, but only not allowed to play a sport mystified the Pott family.
However, CHS Athletic Director Darren Yafai said when he contacted Saratoga to check on the new Gilroy student’s eligibility status, “they did not say he left the school or the team for any disciplinary action,” he said.
A private investigator whose firm was hired by Allard to help in the investigation – which spans more than 200 days from the alleged sexual battery – added that “these three young men are in deep trouble.”
“What is clear is that they will not voluntarily accept responsibility for what they did and that they will have be forced to accept responsibility in a court of law,” concluded Allard.