Family Says School Covered for Athlete Who Attacked Their Daughter and Others
Janie Doe and her parents sued the Walton Verona Board of Education, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, Janie's alleged attacker Vance Sullivan, his father Dan Sullivan, and several other school officials in Federal Court.
The family says Janie got Vance's attention when she was 13 and playing on the freshman team at Walton Verona High School.
They claim that Vance, 18, a star player on the basketball and baseball teams, got Janie's phone number and sent her text messages to "congratulate" her on her success on the team.
"Soon, however, Vance's texts turned to sexual harassment," the complaint states. "For example, he sent a text to her saying he wanted to start 'sexting' with her. Once Janie discovered what the term meant, she began to ignore Vance and his texts. She tried to do so politely, fearing repercussions due to his popularity. But Vance Sullivan continued his pursuit, even texting messages to Janie by way of other girls he knew in her class."
Before a middle school basketball game in December 2010, Vance sent Janie text messages via her classmates, insisting that she meet him outside the gym to "talk," the complaint states. Janie says she told him to leave her alone.
But "When Vance arrived, he asked Janie to meet him in the parking lot," the complaint states. "Janie resisted but Vance was adamant. He told her he just wanted things to be good between them. Vance asked her to talk to him in his car since it was so cold. However, once Vance induced her to get in the car, he started touching her chest and trying to kiss her. When Janie protested and tried to get away, Vance locked the doors on the car, pulled down his shorts and forced her hand onto his genitals. He also forced his hand up Janie's uniform shorts to grope her genitals. She fought and screamed at him to let her go. When she at last broke free and got out of the car, Vance threatened her and told her menacingly not to tell anyone."
The family says that after that assault, Vance threatened and stalked Janie to force her to keep quiet. They say she did keep quite for more than a week, until one of her teachers found out about the assault.
Janie's parents say school officials waited 4 days before notifying them of the sexual assault. They say that despite instructions from the Sheriff's Department, Superintendent Bill Boyle and Walton Verona High School Principal Mark Krummen told Vance and his father that Janie's family had notified the police.
Vance admitted to the assault during a phone conversation recorded by the Sheriff's Department, the complaint states. Vance was arrested and charged with 2nd degree sex abuse, and was released on bail, according to the complaint.
Still, the family says, Krummen and other school officials refused to take action against Vance, stating that he was "only accused and not yet guilty of anything."
But the family says that school officials knew Janie was not Vance's first victim. He already had sexually assaulted a girl in a school elevator and another girl behind the gymnasium, according to the complaint.
They say Vance locked "Jill Roe" in a school elevator, to which he had been given the key, and "sexually assaulted her against her will. Jill Roe's parents reported the attack to the School Defendants. Jill provided a detailed written description of the assault. The School Defendants gave Vance only an hour detention and took no action to protect Jill or other female students against Vance."
The family says that "soon after" this attack, "Vance sexually assaulted another girl. ... Vance lured Mary Roe behind the gymnasium. Vance grabbed her and forced her to make unwanted physical contact. However, Principal Mark Krummen heard Mary Roe's shouts and walked behind the gym. Krummen interrupted Vance as he was in the act of forcing Mary Roe down upon him.
"The School Defendants still took no action to protect the female students against Vance."
The family says the school violated its own policies by failing to discipline Vance for these attacks, and they say that after he assaulted Janie, he was allowed to stay on the basketball team, also in violation of school policy.
"The WVH School basketball team on which Vance Sullivan played was scheduled to play a tournament in Orlando, Fla. on Dec. 27-30, 2010. Upon learning that Vance was charged with the sexual abuse of a minor, Dan Trame, the coach for WVH School, told the team they should not tell their parents about Vance's arrest as it might keep Vance from going with the team to Orlando," the complaint states.
The plaintiffs say that while school officials failed to protect Janie, Vance, his family, and other students stalked, persecuted and harassed Janie and her family members.
"Under the implicit protection of the school defendants' inaction, Vance and his family embarked on a course of conduct calculated to intimidate and harass Janie," the complaint states. "Vance freely walked the halls proclaiming his innocence and slandering Janie. He continued to stalk and threaten her. Vance continued his work as a library aide for the school defendants after he was charged with sexual assault. His duties as library aid required delivering books and supplies to the classrooms. Vance continued to make deliveries to Janie's teacher, and, while in the classroom, he would stare at Janie. This was very unsettling for Janie. Frequently, on such occasions, Janie's classmates would comment to her about Vance's staring."
The family claims that "the lack of disciplinary action by any school official bolstered Vance's claims of victim status in the minds of the students and faculty unaware of the true details. By all appearance, WVH School officials sided with Vance. This created and fostered public sentiment toward Vance and against Janie. Other students began threatening Janie and her older sister. More and more, both students were ridiculed by their peers.
"The harassment increased. Vance Sullivan, as well as some of his friends and relatives, made threats to Janie and her family orally and/or on Facebook. Although the Facebook posts did not mention Janie's family by name, they spoke menacingly against members of a 'certain family'. For example, Janie was threatened that 'if a certain person shows up to school tomorrow, she's going to have her legs broken' and 'if a certain person shows up to school she's going to be ganged up on.' Janie's parents reported the threats and bullying to WVH School principal Mark Krummen and Caitlyn Ryan, the Freshman Girls Basketball coach."
Ryan is not named as a defendant.
The family claims that to top it off, Vance's uncle John Anderson, also a school sports coach, joined in the harassment.
The family says that as Janie's mother drove Janie to school, "John Anderson, Vance's uncle and coach of the Walton Verona Girls' Varsity Softball team, saw her and Janie in their car. Anderson swerved his car toward theirs to run Janie's mom off the road, shouting obscenities and holding up his middle finger as he did so. Both Janie and her mom were severely shaken up by the incident."
Still, school officials took no action and claimed they were "unaware of any rules that required disciplinary action" according to the complaint.
The family says the school allowed Vance to watch Janie's basketball games.
They say school officials gave Vance the choice to withdraw from athletics, instead of other discipline, kept the incident out of his school record and gave false information to the High School Athletic Association so that Vance could compete as an athlete at a new school.
"The school defendants were well aware that Vance had sexually harassed female students," the complaint states. "Despite this fact, and even after the actual notice that Janie had likewise suffered sexual abuse, harassment, and threats, the school defendants failed to protect her. In fact, other students - indeed, even school officials - joined in or condoned the persecution of Janie and her family for speaking up. Because of such unchecked harassment, Janie's parents removed her from WVM School fearing their daughter would suffer further mental and physical injury. Still, no action was taken by the school against any of the students involved in harassing Janie or her sister."
The family says "the school defendants willfully created and fostered a climate where Vance Sullivan was painted as a victim and Janie was vilified. Even after removing Janie from WVM School, the harassment came to her door. Janie's family have been regularly terrorized by threats and obscenities shouted from cars, punctuated by vulgar gestures. At a local restaurant, several adults accosted Janie with foul and lewd language. When Janie's mother confronted them to protect her daughter, they responded by pushing her."
The family says Janie was denied educational and athletic opportunities, and they were forced to move out of their home due to the oppressive environment the defendants created.
Also, the school refused to let Janie play basketball as a homebound student, while Vance was allowed to attend school sporting events even after his conviction, and he was featured on the school's summer basketball camp flyer, according to the complaint.
The family seeks compensatory and punitive damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment, civil rights violations and infliction of severe emotional distress, and a restraining order against Vance. And they want the school to establish and enforce anti-sexual harassment policies.
They are represented by Richard Brueggemann with Hemmer DeFrank of Ft. Mitchell, Ky.