Northeast Denver residents, with many East students and alumni as neighbors, were shocked to learn that four East High School administrators and a counselor had been charged with a misdemeanor and served with a summons to appear in court. Our coverage tells the disturbing story revealed in the police investigation and explains the legal process that has occurred and that lies ahead.
What led up to the charges?
March 14, 2016—A distraught 15-year-old victim tells the East High School dean and counselor she was sexually assaulted on March 12 at the home of a fellow East High School student who had invited her there to watch a movie.
March 14, 2016 to September 2017—During this 18-month period, the girl had multiple contacts with East staff, telling them she continued to be bullied for reporting the incident and that she was struggling and having nightmares over the incident and the bullying.
November 2017—Twenty months after the alleged rape, the school resource officer, who was given information on the victim by the new principal, John Youngquist, called the girl’s father and advised that he make a police report. The family went to the police and an investigation was started into the alleged assault and failure of school officials to report the incident.
March 2018—Based on the police investigation, the juvenile accused of the alleged assault was charged in Juvenile Court with one count of sexual assault, a third-degree felony.
April 16, 2018—Five East personnel received a summons to appear in court on May 16. The five, including Andy Mendelsberg (the principal at the time of the incident), the vice principal, one counselor and two deans, were charged with one count of violation of persons required to report, a third-degree misdemeanor. State law requires school officials or employees to report incidents of alleged child abuse or neglect, or cause a report to be made, to the local county child welfare agency or local law enforcement agency after receiving such information.
What does DPS say?
“Denver Public Schools has a confidential student record from March 2016 made at the time by school personnel at East High School stating that there was a conferral with the Denver police regarding this matter. A notation memorializing the conferral with the Denver Police was entered on the same date.” Will Jones, director of media relations for Denver Public Schools (DPS) emailed that statement to the Front Porch on April 19. Citing confidentiality and saying they will work closely with the police and the district attorney, the note also said, “We’re not in a position to discuss more at this time.” The “more” that we requested was DPS documentation about circumstances in which school officials are required to contact police or child protective services and information about training DPS provides in those matters.
If DPS reported the incident, why are East administrators charged with failure to report?
We’ll look for the answer to that question as more information becomes available. The Front Porch requested the police department’s documentation of the March, 2016 phone call Jones cites, but both the police and the DA’s office said that information could not be shared because it is evidence in the case.
How did the DA determine charges should be filed?
An explanation from the District Attorney’s (DA) website may help non-legal readers understand these charges. “‘Charges’ are legal allegations that a suspect has committed a specific criminal offense as defined by state law. Criminal charges are filed against a defendant on behalf of “The People of the State of Colorado,” not on behalf of a specific person, and the alleged criminal acts are considered “offenses against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Colorado,” not offenses against specific persons.
“The decision whether to file and prosecute criminal charges, and what those charges should be, is the responsibility of the District Attorney (DA). This decision-making process is guided by legal and ethical standards that require a reasonable belief that the charge or charges can be proven to a jury, unanimously, beyond a reasonable doubt, after considering reasonable defenses.”
The timeframe and overview of this case described above, as well as the information that follows, was taken from the multi-month police investigation that resulted in five probable cause (PC) statements that are now in the public record. “The probable cause statement is based upon the facts collected by the law enforcement agency conducting the investigation, generally through victim and witness interviews (such as of suspects/defendants) and collection of forensic evidence. The PC statement is the state’s argument for the filing of charges, which of course can be rebutted through the judicial process,” said Ken Lane, Denver District Attorney’s Office communications director by email to the Front Porch.
“The counselor told the victim some things are just more traumatizing for (some than) others and to find new friends.”
-From the counselor probable cause statement
The probable cause statements revealed a disturbing story.
Although the five individuals’ names are now in the public record, they are neighbors who have not yet gone through the judicial process, so, except for the principals, the Front Porch has decided to use only their positions in this article.
In the first two days of school after the Saturday incident of alleged sexual assault, the victim broke down in tears and another student took her to the counselor’s office, where the counselor and dean asked if she’d like to press charges. The victim didn’t understand what they meant and said no, but asked that the incident be written down and put in the suspect’s file. She also showed the dean a bruise she received during the assault.
Both the dean and the counselor told the victim that if she talked to the suspect again she wouldn’t be able to press charges. The victim’s parents met with the dean the same day and the dean told them it would be very hard on their daughter if they moved forward with charges. Both parents said okay, but they specifically asked that it be documented in the other student’s file. The dean agreed.
The next day, the victim returned to the dean’s office looking for help since she was facing backlash from peers (for reporting the incident). The dean told the victim that she had seen this behavior in a lot of the students at East High School and the quicker she moves on the better. The dean also told her this would be their little secret.
During the week after the assault and periodically thereafter, the victim told the counselor she was suffering from anxiety, lack of sleep and nightmares about the assault and she was continuing to face backlash from other students. The counselor told the victim some things are just more traumatizing for some and to find new friends. And she told the victim that if she had contact with the suspect, she would be disciplined for harassing him.
Nine months later, in December 2016, the victim was called to the counselor’s office to talk about the stress of finals; not the bullying or the assault. The victim said she was still being bullied and wanted to switch schools. The counselor said she was running from her problems. The counselor also said she would follow up with the dean and call her parents. But her parents were not contacted.
The next month, in January 2017, the victim went to the dean and reported she was being bullied and blackmailed by a friend of the suspect’s. The dean first said he couldn’t do anything about the bullying, then said if she could prove it, he would step in. The next day the victim showed him at least a dozen printed screenshots of text messages and social media posts and the names of students who were bullying her for reporting the sex assault. The dean filed the paperwork away in a cabinet and did not act.
Thirteen months after the alleged sexual assault incident, in April 2017, the victim was still suffering and her parents decided to pull her from the school. The parents obtained her file and observed there was no documentation about the sex assault and very little documentation about the bullying. The parents met with the principal, Andy Mendelsberg who told them he hadn’t heard anything about the girl, the sex assault incident or the bullying. Mendelsberg told the parents this was all new to him and their daughter should find a new group of friends to hang out with.
In September 2017, 18 months after the victim reported the assault to school officials, the victim’s father learned on a TV news report that school officials are obligated to report such an incident. He contacted DPS administration, then followed up with an email a few weeks later. In November 2017 the school resource officer contacted the victim’s father and advised him to make a police report, which they did the next day.
What will happen next?
On May 16, the judge will advise the five personnel from East High School of the charge and schedule further proceedings in the judicial process, according to DA Communications Director Lane. Charges can be dismissed at any time during the judicial process, typically by the prosecuting office if the office determines there is no longer sufficient evidence to pursue prosecution, but also as a result of a plea agreement between the parties and approved by the judge. Lane also said the punishment for a third degree misdemeanor in Colorado is 0–6 months in county jail and/or up to $750 fine. Deferred judgment or probation (meaning no jail time and/or no fine) are also sentence options.
The Front Porch will follow the judicial process as it proceeds.