High School Rape Victim Spends Two Years in Court Fighting Ouster From Squad

Sexual assault victim says she was punished for not cheering for her attacker.

October 26, 2010, 10:49 AM

Oct. 27, 2010— -- A one-time high school cheerleader who was sexually assaulted by a star student athlete and then kicked off her squad for refusing to cheer for her attacker said she will continue battling the school district in court until she gets an admission that they were in the wrong.

In the two years since the attack, the now-18-year-old woman has amassed what she and her lawyer say are a lengthy list of injustices, including what they say is the school's dismissive attitude when she returned to class at Silsbee High School after the assault.

Their lawsuit has been repeatedly dismissed in state and federal courts, with a trio of federal appellate court judges ruling recently that the teen had no basis for a First Amendment complaint when her refusal to cheer the name of her attacker during basketball name cost her a spot on the squad.

"It frustrates me," said the teen, who is referred to by her initials H.S. in court documents. "All I've wanted out of this all along is for somebody to say they've done wrong."

She insists, however, that the fight is worth it, if only to give other rape victims a reason to stand up for themselves.

"If everything works out the way that we're hoping … then it makes a point that it's not all right," she said. "And if we keep fighting for that, then maybe other people will too."

She has accused the high school, the school district, the school principal, the superintendent, the assistant superintendent and the cheerleading official of being insensitive after her sexual assault, especially after her attackers returned to school.

She said school officials told her to keep away from the students arrested in connection with the attack, Rakheem Bolton and Christian Rountree. And when she complained that she faced taunting chants by other students when she walked into the cafeteria, "they [school officials] said just stay out of the cafeteria," H.S. said in court documents.

The lawyer for the school and district officials said H.S. was not mistreated and says they have the multiple court rulings in their favor to prove it.

"They reviewed all the allegations and found they were completely without basis," attorney Tanner Hunt Jr. said. "That's about as good as it gets in the law business when you get dismissals and affirmations like that."

He argued that when Bolton and Rountree were finally indicted by a third grand jury in the summer of 2009, Bolton was expelled. Rountree had already graduated. Two grand juries had previously refused to indict either boy.

"At the time she refused to cheer for the boy, he had been 'no billed' by the grand jury," Hunt said, referring to the previous grand jury's ruling that there wasn't significant evidence to warrant an indictment. "At that point, insofar as anyone knew, he wasn't a rapist."

Bolton, indicted by the third grand jury on felony sexual assault of a minor, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault. He was sentenced last month to a one-year suspended prison term, two years probation, community service and a $2,500 fine, according to local media reports.

Neither Bolton or his lawyer could be reached for comment, but he told Texas news station KDFM after sentencing that he thought his punishment was "fair."

"I have no hard feelings toward the girl," Bolton told KFDM. "It was a misunderstanding."

Appeals Court Rules in Favor of School Requirement of Cheerleader to Cheer Rapist

H.S. was a16-year-old junior at Silsbee High School, when, drunk at an October 2008 house party after a football game, she was pushed onto a pool table, then to the floor by Bolton, a star athlete who played football and basketball. Rountree allegedly joined in on the assault.

"They start fondling her, disrobing her from the waist down," said H.S.' attorney Larry Watts. "Putting her on the floor, she starts saying, 'Stop, no,' calls for help."

H.S. was then raped, according to court documents, as other partygoers, hearing her screams, banged on the door to the room. When the door burst open, the documents allege, Bolton and Rountree had made their way out a window in an adjacent bathroom.

H.S. was found under the pool table, half-naked and sobbing. Both Bolton and Rountree were arrested the next day.

What followed was months of uncertainty, according to Watts and H.S. When the first grand jury declined to indict Bolton and Rountree they were allowed to return to Silsbee High and by February Bolton was back on the basketball court. A judicial order keeping Bolton and Rountree a specific distance away from H.S. lapsed and was never renewed.

A rape kit was assembled in October 2008 and DNA evidence collected, H.S. said, but she and her family were told that a backlog of cases meant it would be more than a year before processing got started.

H.S. said she knew heading to the games that the cheerleaders had individual cheers for each player that made a free throw, but she hadn't given much thought about what she would do when Bolton stepped up to the line.

"As a team, I cheered for them as a whole. When he stepped up to the free throw line, it didn't feel right for me to have to cheer for him after what he did to me," she said.

So she quietly stepped back and crossed her arms.

"After that game I decided I started this, I'm going to get my point across now," she said. "So I didn't cheer for him at the playoff game either."

Her silent rebellion at that playoff game, 90 minutes from her hometown, resulted in H.S. being yanked into the hallway and, Watts said, berated by the principal, assistant principal and a cheerleading team official.

They "upbraid her for not cheering for Bolton and the superintendent and principal give her an ultimatum," Watts said -- cheer for Bolton or go home.

H.S.' father, Craig S. -- identified by his last initial to protect his daughter's identity -- said he came around the corner to see his daughter, raped just months earlier, sobbing as school officials stand over her.

"I lost my control. I was very angry," Craig said, admitting to unleashing a torrent of questionable language on the school officials. "I've learned to hold that composure a lot better now. I did apologize for that to them, for losing control."

H.S. was kicked off the squad days later, told she was banned for the duration of her high school career. The initial lawsuit was filed by her parents on her behalf shortly after, claiming their daughter's First Amendment rights had been violated.

In the recent decision to uphold a dismissal of her case in the Fifth Circuit United States Court of Appeals, the judges said that as part of the cheerleading team, H.S. was acting as "a mouthpiece through which SISD [Silsbee Independent School District] could disseminate speech -- namely support for its athletic teams."

"SISD had no duty to promote H.S.'s message by allowing her to cheer or not cheer as she saw fit," the decision continued. "H.S. was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily."

'Perfect Love Casts Out Fear:' Teen Vows to Continue Exhausting Legal Battle

H.S. has vowed to continue to fight the school and the district in court despite the numerous rulings and decisions against her.

"There are too many big issues here" to give up, Watts said. "She shouldn't be obligated to cheer for her rapist."

Jennifer Marsh, director of the National Sexual Assault Hotline for the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network , or RAINN, said they couldn't comment on specific cases, but that it's not uncommon for there to be a "reversal of roles" after a sexual assault in which the onus is on the victim.

"I think in the cases of athletes, particularly star athletes, we've seen that play again and again from all levels, from high school to professionals," Marsh said. "I think the victims in those cases have even more of an uphill battle."

Hunt declined to comment on specific charges H.S. made against school officials, including that she was told to stay away from her attacker. School officials, he said, acted appropriately in expelling Bolton after he was indicted.

Watts said his next step will be to file a petition in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for a re-plea. Also caught up in appeals is a lower court's ruling that, in dismissing her lawsuit, H.S.' parents must pay the defendants upwards of $45,000 in legal costs.

"It is not easy, I can tell you that," H.S. said of her decision to not give up. "It's probably going to be one of the hardest things me and my family have gone through."

After H.S. was kicked off the cheerleading team, school officials relented and allowed her to try out again after the indictments against Bolton and Rountree.

Rountree's case, according to KFDM, is still pending.

H.S. said she tried out again -- and made the team -- in honor of her therapist who helped her so much after the rape. That therapist, who died of breast cancer that summer, had encouraged H.S. to continue with all the activities she had enjoyed before the assault in an effort to reclaim her life.

But her slipping grades eventually forced her off the team for good before she graduated in May. Though H.S. denied it, Craig said he believes his daughter, a one-time honors student, let her grades slip to give herself an out while still saving face.

"It took a toll on her I believe," Craig said. "We really were wondering whether she'd graduate."

H.S. is now working and has plans to start college next semester, working toward her goal of becoming a forensic scientist. It's a profession she'd always been interested in, she said, but the events of the last two years combined with the delay in the processing of her rape kit have strengthened her resolve.