Justice Department: Sparkman Middle School sting put 14-year-old in harm’s way

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday that a family should be able to sue the Madison County School System after a student raped a teenage girl during a botched sting operation in a boy's bathroom in 2010.

"A school board cannot avoid summary judgment as a matter of law when a school administrator willfully ignores a plan to use a 14-year-old special needs student as bait to catch a student with a known history of sexual and violent misconduct, and as a result, the student is sodomized," the federal brief filed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday read.

The U.S. Department of Justice argued the administration of Sparkman Middle School knew the boy was dangerous and showed "deliberate indifference."  The 16-year-old was also a special needs student.

The brief said a teacher's aide had warned school leadership of the boy's advances toward other girls. Leadership decided the school could not punish the boy because he had not been "caught in the act." When the boy propositioned the 14-year-old girl for sex, that's when the teacher's made a plan to use the girl as bait, according to the brief.

The aide and the 14-year-old girl went to Vice Principal Jeanne Dunaway's office and laid out the plan, the brief said. The girl left the office, found the boy, and agreed to his proposition for sex. That's when the sting went wrong.

There were no adults in bathroom to intervene and the boy sodomized the girl, according to the brief.

The Justice Department went on to say school officials listed the incident in the boy's record as "inappropriate touching," despite medical evidence that pointed to rape.

The Justice Department argues the girl's guardian can sue under Title IX.

"We've gotten a good deal of national attention," said Teri Mastando. Mastando and her firm are representing the plaintiff in this case. "Schools need to be aware of their obligations and that the policies need to be corrected. I certainly hope that's something that comes from this."

The National Women's Law Center also joined the Justice Department and filed a brief supporting the 14-year-old victim, who left the school district after the rape and now lives in another state. "What I find the most gratifying about all of it is that this is not something we sought out," said Mastando. "They came to us and they are filing these briefs independent from us."

The Madison County Board of Education released the following statement to WHNT News 19 in regards to the pending litigation: "The attorneys for the Board of Education and school officials are confident that the 11th  Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in favor of the Board and the administrators.  Our attorneys recommend that we not discuss ongoing litigation."

Read much more on this case at AL.com's website by clicking here.

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