Audrie Pott Case: Family attorney disputes school's explanation for not expelling boys accused in sexual battery case

This undated photo provided by her family via attorney Robert Allard shows Audrey Pott. A Northern California sheriff's office has arrested three 16-year-old boys on accusations that they sexually battered the 15-year-old girl who hanged herself eight days after the attack last fall. Santa Clara County Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Jose Cardoza says the teens were arrested Thursday, April 11, 2013, two at Saratoga High School and a third at Christopher High School in Gilroy. (AP Photo/Family photo provided by attorney Robert Allard) NO SALES MAGS OUT FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Audrie Pott
AP Photo/Family photo provided by attorney Robert Allard

(CBS/AP) SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - The attorney for the family of 15-year-old Audrie Pott is questioning why school officials chose not to expell the boys accused of sexually assaulting her eight days before she hanged herself.

PICTURES: Calif. teen commits suicide after alleged rape

Saratoga schools Superintendent Bob Mistele said Wednesday that the because the alleged assault occurred at a party and not on campus, they could not be expelled.

But attorney Robert Allard said he and the Pott family disagree.

"Whether the sexual assault occurred on or off campus, it is clear from the accounts of various students that the dissemination of at least one photograph occurred on school grounds for the specific purpose to harass and intimidate Audrie while she was attending school related activities," Allard said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

"For that reason, in our view, the school district was obligated to investigate and take action against these young men. The Pott family in fact participated in several meetings with school administrators to demand that the young men be expelled or removed from campus."

The boys accused in the case were cited last fall but remained in school until April 11, when sheriff's deputies took them out of their classrooms and arrested them on charges of sexual battery and distribution of child pornography.

The three 16-year-old boys spent the weekend in the county juvenile detention center and appeared in court Tuesday. Their names were not released because of their ages.

The Pott family filed a lawsuit against the boys and their families on Monday and also filed a claim against the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District, alleging that administrators were slack in responding to the bullying against Audrie, who committed suicide eight days after she was assaulted.

Allard alleged that the three suspects took her upstairs to a bedroom during a Labor Day weekend party where she drank a combination of vodka and Gatorade and passed out. The boys allegedly assaulted her, drew and wrote on her, and took a photo of an intimate body part, Allard said.

He accused the district of failing to document a meeting the Pott family had with administrators about bullying several months before Audrie's death.

In a written statement, Mistele confirmed that administrators met with the Pott family before her death, but he said "the issue of bullying was not the subject covered in those conversations."

After Audrie's death, a small group of students told an assistant principal that students were talking about the alleged incident at the party, and that some photographs were being shared among students, Mistele said.

School officials contacted the campus resource officer but Mistele said it remains "very unclear" whether photographs of the alleged sexual assault were circulated among students on campus.

But Allard responded that the school district was "more interested in protecting its image than in taking responsibility for its lack of actions in Audrie's case."

Audrie saw people huddled around a phone and believed her photo was being shared, he said. And the school newspaper reported Sunday that several students whom they did not name thought that about 10 students saw the photo.

"The whole school is talking about it. My life is over," Audrie wrote in a Facebook message before she killed herself, her stepmother said.

But Mistele said that along with law enforcement investigators, school officials "have been unable to verify the extent to which any photographic images may have been shared on campus or the Internet before or after her suicide that may have contributed to her feeling embarrassed or harassed."

Mistele said the boys' alleged misconduct warrants a suspension or placement in independent study to avoid "a disruption or distraction on campus." The students' parents have agreed with administrators that they won't go back to campus until the case is resolved, and if they are found guilty, the teens could be expelled, he said.

A candlelight vigil is planned for Audrie on Friday evening at Saratoga High School.

Complete coverage of the Audrie Pott case on Crimesider