Five administrators at Denver’s East High School repeatedly failed to take action after learning of a student’s report that she was raped by a classmate – one allegedly telling the girl that the incident was their “little secret,” according to court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know.
Despite repeated contacts with the girl and her parents over more than a year – including multiple meetings where the student said she was harassed and bullied for reporting the alleged assault – none of the administrators told police, according to the documents.
Now all five face misdemeanor charges of violating Colorado’s mandatory reporting law, which requires educators and others – such as doctors, youth coaches, scout leaders and members of the clergy – to report allegations of child abuse to the authorities.
Among those charged was Andy Mendelsberg, 50, who retired as East’s principal last fall in the face of the alleged coverup of complaints that a cheerleading coach had physically abused students while forcing them to do the splits.
- Vice Principal Jann Peterson, 60.
- Dean Eric Sinclair, 38.
- Dean Jennifer Sculley, 49.
- Counselor Anita Curtiss, 37.
Each of the five is scheduled to appear in court May 16. The charge is a class 3 misdemeanor, meaning the maximum punishment is six months behind bars and a $750 fine.
Messages left for Mendelsberg, Peterson, Sinclair and Curtiss were not returned Wednesday. Sculley could not be reached.
Peterson, Sinclair, Curtiss and Sculley remained on the job Wednesday, according to Denver Public Schools spokesman Will Jones.
According to the documents, the incident was not reported to police until East’s current principal, John Youngquist, shared the allegations with a school resource officer. The documents suggest that the violation of the mandatory reporting law began March 14, 2016, when the girl reported the incident to East administrators, and continued until Nov. 14, 2017, when it was finally reported to Denver police.
The boy accused in the incident was charged last month with one count of felony sexual assault, said Ken Lane, spokesman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office.
But the conduct of the administrators is a separate issue.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Jones disputed the allegation that the East administrators did not follow the mandatory reporting law.
“Our records indicate that the district did notify the Denver Police Department of this incident in March 2016,” Jones’ statement read, in part.
Asked to clarify what records the district has, Jones declined in an e-mail to provide further information, contending that it would violate student privacy laws.
Wednesday, Ken Lane, spokesman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, said he could not address Jones’ assertion.
“We do not believe that this was adequately reported as required by state law,” Lane told 9NEWS.
The court documents lay out a detailed sequence of events surrounding the allegations against the five current and former East administrators.
The girl alleged that on March 12, 2016, a Saturday, she was invited to a male classmate’s home to watch a movie. While there, she alleged she was sexually assaulted.
Two days later, she “was in class and became very upset about what happened over the weekend,” according to the documents. After breaking down in tears, another student took her to a counselor’s office and then to meet Sculley, one of the school’s deans.
Sculley, in turn, took the girl to see Curtiss, a counselor, and the two women “conferred privately outside Curtiss’ office.”
They returned, according to the documents, and asked the girl if she wanted to press charges.
“At that time, the victim didn’t understand what that meant and told them no,” Denver police detective Cari Jimenez wrote in documents outlining the allegations behind the charges. “The victim did request that it be written down and put in the other student/suspect’s file.”
Sculley called the girl’s father and him what happened, using the words “sex assault with a male peer.”
“The victim’s parents met with Sculley the same day and she told them that it would be very hard on the victim if they moved forward with charges,” detective Jimenez wrote. “Both parents say okay, but they specifically tell Sculley they want it documented in the other student file. Sculley assures both parents that she will document it.”
Over the coming days, according to the documents, the girl returned to Curtiss’ office and reported that she was suffering from anxiety, a lack of sleep and nightmares and felt a “growing tension with peers and backlash from them.”
“Curtiss told the victim some things are just more traumatizing for others and to find new friends,” detective Jimenez wrote. “In addition, Curtiss told the victim that if she had contact with the suspect, she would be disciplined for harassing him.”
At one point, according to the documents, the girl went to Sculley’s office looking for help.
“Sculley tells the victim that she has seen this behavior in a lot of the students at East High School and the quicker she moves on the better,” detective Jimenez wrote. “Sculley also tells her that this is their little secret.”
Over the next several months, the girl reported to Curtiss “that she was being bullied and harassed daily by peers for reporting the sex assault,” according to the documents.
In December 2016, “the victim was called to Curtiss’ office to talk about the stress of finals and not the incident with the bullying or the assault.” The girl told Curtiss she was still being bullied and wanted to change schools, according to the documents.
“Curtiss tells the victim she is running from her problems,” the detective wrote.
A few weeks later, in January 2017, the girl met with Peterson, the vice principal, and Sinclair, the dean, and reported she was “still being bullied because of reporting the sex assault.”
The girl alleged that Sinclair told her “he couldn’t do anything about the bullying.”
At that point, the girl’s father scheduled a meeting with Sinclair, which Peterson attended. There, the girl detailed a pattern of bullying that she’d endured.
“Vice Principal Peterson got choked up,” Jimenez wrote, and told the girl and her parents it was “one of the worst” stories of bullying she had ever heard.
In that same meeting, Mendelsberg “stepped in and said he was checking on the victim to see if she was okay.”
After Sinclair told the girl he would help her if she could prove the bullying, she provided “at least a dozen printed out screenshots of text messages and social media posts and the names of the students who were bullying her for reporting the sex assault,” Jimenez wrote. “Dean Sinclair filed the paperwork away in a cabinet and did not act.”
In April 2017, according to the documents, the girl’s parents decided to pull her out of East. After requesting her academic file they found no documentation of the alleged sexual assault and “very little” paperwork on the bullying, according to the documents.
Roughly a week later, the parents were told that Mendlesberg would not allow them to remove their daughter from the school, according to the documents. They requested a meeting with him, and during it Mendelsberg had to ask them who their daughter was “because he didn’t know her,” detective Jimenez wrote.
After the parents told Mendelsberg about the alleged assault and the bullying, he replied that it was all “new news” to him and that he had not heard about it from another dean or teacher, according to the documents.
“He tells parents to have their daughter find a new group of friends to hang out with,” the detective wrote.
It wasn’t until September 2017 that the girl and her parents saw a news story about the mandatory reporting law and concluded that the five administrators had a legal obligation to report her allegations to the police.
The girl’s father raised his concerns with unspecified district administrators that month and then, in November, Youngquist alerted a school resource officer. According to the documents, that officer contacted the girl’s father and advised him to make a formal police report. The girl and her parents went to a police station the following day and did that.
After news of the charges broke, Youngquist posted a message on the East High web page:
“Dear East High School Families,
“It is our priority to keep you informed about matters related to our school. You may hear in the media that the Denver District Attorney filed misdemeanor charges against five current and former East High School officials for failure to report an alleged sexual assault between two students that occurred off-campus in March 2016. Please know that, in addition to working with Denver police in the investigation of these allegations, we are doing all we can to support our students and families at East and throughout the district.
“We know how important it is to ensure that any student who has concerns about inappropriate or unlawful sexual behavior be fully supported and that concerns about abuse be promptly reported to law enforcement. As you know, we have strong policies and procedures in place to support students and are committed to ensuring a safe learning environment in our schools.
“Our records here indicate that our employees did notify the Denver Police Department of this incident in March 2016. We will continue to work with the Police and District Attorney going forward to understand better their concerns in this case.
“We are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all our students, at East High School and throughout Denver Public Schools. We will provide additional information when we can.
“I want to thank you for your support, patience and continued commitment to the students and families of East High School. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have questions or concerns.”
The current and former East High administrators are the second group of school officials to be charged in recent months with violating the state’s mandatory reporting law.
Earlier this year, three administrators at Prairie Middle School in the Cherry Creek district were charged with failing to report allegations that a teacher had sexually assaulted a student. Principal David Gonzalez, 39, dean Adrienne MacIntosh, 42, and counselor Cheryl Somers-Weglenka, 45, all have court cases pending.
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.