Mich. Lawsuit Claims School Mishandled Athlete’s Sexual Assault of Autistic Teen

According to the lawsuit, the school’s inaction led to continued sexual harassment and a hostile school environment for the victim.

A lawsuit claims officials at a Michigan high school failed to adequately respond to a prominent athlete’s sexual assault of an autistic classmate.

The Title IX lawsuit, filed by the victim’s family, accuses Benton Harbor High School of allowing a cell phone video of the sexual assault to spread among students and ignoring harassment that led to extensive psychological trauma to the victim.

Former Benton Harbor High quarterback Timothy Bell Jr. was 16 at the time he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old classmate with autism during a basketball game in 2015, reports mlive.com.

The assault led to a one year prison sentence for Bell, now 18, in August of last year. Bell will also serve five years of probation and will be on the state’s sex offender registry for life.

The federal lawsuit was filed against Benton Harbor Area Schools, Superintendent Shelly Walker, former Benton Harbor High School Principal Rodger Tripplett and Title IX Coordinator Patricia Robinson.

According to the lawsuit, after the victim reported the assault to school officials she was subjected to sexual harassment including sex-based taunts, teasing and name-calling and was forced to see her attacker in classrooms and hallways.

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The lawsuit claims that former athletic department assistant Kenisha Nichols was aware of the cell phone video circulating among students but did not notify district officials. Other school officials also became aware of the video after being contacted by a police detective.

Tripplett allegedly informed the victim’s mother that Bell had admitted to the assault and that his staff members were aware of the incident. The school suspended Bell, then lifted the suspension in April and Bell, a prominent athlete, was allowed to play baseball, basketball and football for the school.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit claims the school did nothing to stop the harassment, which eventually led the victim to be pulled out of school. The victim underwent counseling and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder after a suicide threat.

The victim’s mother, who had just bought a home in the district, says she felt forced to move and is now paying that mortgage plus rent at a new apartment. She has applied for state assistance and can’t afford further counseling for her daughter.

None of the people named in the lawsuit were available for comment.

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