Saturday, May 22, 2010

Carmel High School Cover-Up: It's Happened Before

History has a way of repeating itself up in Carmel. A little more than a decade ago, a student at Carmel High School claimed he was sexually assaulted by members of the school's swim team. The victim reported it to the team's swim coach, who did nothing. It was later learned that school officials violated state law by failing to report the sexual assault to the Department of Children Services. Marion Co. Prosecutor Leerkamp investigates but brings no charges in the case. The swim coach who failed to report the incident to the state's child welfare agency after learning of the incident gets off with a slap on the wrist. Sound familiar?

I have a pretty good memory, and I recalled the incident being reported in the news media when I was working in Carmel at the time. A fellow co-worker's son was a young swimmer at the school's middle school at the time and was very concerned about what she had heard had happened. Carmel's swim team has had a national reputation. A story in the Star the same year talked about the high school swim team having the U.S. Title in its sights. What I haven't been able to understand is why nobody in the local news media has a memory of this incident and has not reported on it. This morning, I decided to dig into the Star's online archive after the newspaper reported that a public records request dating back to 1999, the year the swim team assault occurred, had failed to turn up any relevant documents according to the school's attorney. Sure enough, there it was in black and white. And boy was that case's handling very similar to this one.

An archived story dated January 12, 2002 by Terry Horne reported on a federal lawsuit being filed against Carmel High School in which a former student and member of the school's swim team claimed that he had been sexually assaulted and battered in 1999. According to the lawsuit, the boy was 15 at the time the assault occurred. One of victims in the current case was 14 in the latest reported sexual assault by several Carmel High School basketball seniors that took place earlier this year. The victim was removed from the school and living in Tennessee at the time his lawsuit was filed. In the latest case, the parents of the victim removed him from the school. There were multiple incidents of the victim being attacked in 1999 just as the current victim claims. The incidents took place in the school's locker room and the shower area. The latest incidents occurred on the team's bus and the locker room. The Star's archived report provides no specific details on what took place during the sexual assaults. My recollection of what I heard at the time was that they involved anal penetration of the victim, just like what the current victim's parents said happened to him.

Are the similarities a little too much for comfort? Well, it gets worse. The victim says the sexual assaults were carried out by three teammates on the swim team and were witnessed by as many as ten other team members. After he reported it to the team's swim coach at the time, Tony Young, the coach did nothing. State law mandated at the time and to this date that school officials notify the state's child welfare agency whenever such incidents are reported to them. The victim suffered severe emotional trauma from the sexual assaults and sought treatment. A social worker at St. Vincent, who treated hm, reported what had happened to him to the Department of Children Services on May 28, 1999.

The Star reporter asked Hamilton Co. Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp about the allegations made by the student at the time they became known publicly. Leerkamp said her office investigated and presented the evidence to a grand jury. The grand jury returned no indictments and she brought no charges on her own against the team players. "They felt there was insufficient evidence," Leerkamp told the Star reporter about the claims made by the victim. "She said the student who was assaulted had a learning disability that might have prompted the students to be mean [to him]."

Similarly, Leerkamp sent the current case against the basketball players to a grand jury. She claimed the grand jurors found insufficient evidence to bring sex-related charges against the basketball players and refused to provide any details of the allegations made by the victims, claiming reporters shouldn't put much stock in "rumor and innuendo." The parents of the victim said in a press conference earlier this week that they were speaking out publicly because of rumors of evidence she presented to the grand jury that suggested their son consented to having his anus penetrated. Unlike the 1999 case, Leerkamp has faced a torrent of media coverage and was unable to shove the case under the rug. She brought only battery and criminal recklessness charges against the four accused basketball players, crimes that are classified as misdemeanors and typically don't result in jail time if the defendants have no prior criminal records. The victim in the current case doesn't have "a learning disability" as Leerkamp describes it, but he is African-American. In the overwhelmingly white city of Carmel, some might argue that's an automatic disability.

It's unclear what disciplinary action, if any, was taken against the perpetrators in the 1999 case. The news story doesn't say whether they were also juveniles like the victim or adults. Although Leerkamp had closely guarded the identity of the perpetrators in the latest case up until they were formally charged, claiming they were juveniles, they were in fact all 18 or older. One of the charged in the current case, John Scott Laskowski, was actually 19 at the time the victim claimed the sexual assaults occurred. Coach Young was the only person charged in the 1999 incidents. Leerkamp charged him for failing to report the charges, a misdemeanor. Young did not serve time for the crime, and Leerkamp agreed to a diversion program that allowed his criminal charge to be removed from his record after he completed his probation. He only performed community service as part of his sentencing. You won't believe how Leerkamp explained his community service. "He took the whole situation very much to heart," Leerkamp told the Star. "His community service was trying to educate and raise awareness of school personnel of reporting requirements," she said. A lot of good that did, eh?

The Star's archives provide no information on the outcome of the victim's lawsuit. If I learn more, I will update you. The federal courts' PACER system has no record of the case any longer. I don't understand how the school's attorney could not have disclosed records of this case, particularly when a federal lawsuit had been filed against the school and a former coach criminally charged at the time. A tort claim lawsuit filed by the victim's attorney in the current case complains of "a lengthy history of sexual abuse and bullying by students" at Carmel High School. As to documents the school has released in this latest case, it redacted names of students and other information some experts think violates the state's open records law according to the Star's Robert Annis. "The lack of information coming from Carmel police and Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp . . . . . has 'created an aura of mystery that's led to suspicions and concerns," Annis writes quoting Steven Key, an attorney for the Hoosier State Press Association. As to the 1999 case, the school's attorney's explanation makes a weak attempt at covering it.
"In a letter, school attorney [David] Day said Carmel Clay Schools 'does not categorize records in this manner, so this request would require research, not retrieval, and we do not believe CCS is required to do research in response to a request' under public records laws," Annis reports. Yeah, whatever.

Finally, can someone explain to me why the Star's reporters don't bother to look at their own archived stories? I realize they have a high turnover in staff as a result of Gannett's ownership, there have been many staff cuts and Dennis Ryerson has done a less than fabulous job managing the newspaper, but you would think they could take the time to perform a computer search that takes just a few minutes. Hell, I have to pay to access their archived stories, and I don't get paid to do my volunteer work.

9 comments:

Indy Student said...

"She said the student who was assaulted had a learning disability that might have prompted the students to be mean [to him]."

Leerkamp said this?

Seriously?

This is absolutely outrageous. It's similar to the rumor that one of the victims is gay, and thus was "asking for it."

But what surprises me is it's coming from the Prosecutor's mouth.

Advance Indiana said...

That's a direct quote from the Star's archived story. Like I said, I can't believe the Star hasn't mentioned this old case before, and her's and the school's handling of it.

Marycatherine Barton said...

I share your frustration with this generation of Indianapolis Star's reporters. HOPE they do not get even more mediocre.

Downtown Indy said...

The Star does little more than regurgitate what their 'newsgathering partner' WTHR broadcasts.

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

It's not the reporters, it's the editors and their owners.

Reporters have absolutely no control over what they cover, what they write about, how what they've written appears in the paper, etc.

Ryerson is the one who should be taken to task for this egregious lapse in Journalism 101, not the hapless reporters!

Indy Student said...

Hoosier in the Heartland, I disagree to an extent. It depends on what the journalist's job is. If they work a very specific hard news beat, then yeah, the editor probably dulls out the stories as the events occur. Not much control. But for columnists and other writers, they might be finding the story themselves.

And even if an editor does hand out stories, it's a reporter's job to find a (unique) angle for the story.

Indy4U2C said...

The only way for justice to be served will be in a Federal Civil trial which I believe will show that Carmel City Schools has a custom, policy, and practice of aiding and abetting violent homosexual child molesting and failing to report matters to DCS as required by law...respondeat superior.

The superintendent and school board will likely be held accountable in such a case.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Indy4U2C,

That's a hard thing to prove...at least to the satisfaction of the Southern District federal court. I would steer clear of any federal claims and file it in state court where the defendants won't be able to get a dismissal. Our local federal courts lives to dismiss cases.

dcrutch said...

The Star is a literal thin facade of what not only they, but most newspapers used to be. If it's not bad enough to be hard-wired for political correctness in editorial decisions, they're also overrun by the much larger societal, technological, and fiscal transformation.

Younger people generally don't care about reading a newspaper, or current events for that matter. Production and labor costs rising while advertising dollars are diffused amongst competition for a shrinking constituency about guarantee newspapers are going away. I'm more concerned that two-sided, single source journalism disappears with it.

The decline is enhanced with only printing one side of the story. The less-heard side, such as the Wall Street Journal, is lasting longer. But, getting people to pay for internet subscriptions when we're spoiled on "free" is an experiment that has not yet cleared the tower.

I say as I'm trying to recall if I sent a donation to Gary- yet.