A former student of Benton Harbor High School in Benton Harbor, Mich., has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district, superintendent, former principal and Title IX coordinator, alleging that the school protected star athlete Timothy Bell Jr. despite video evidence of assault.
The unnamed victim of the assault, a 15-year-old freshman cheerleader with autism, was invited into the boys’ bathroom where Bell “violently and forcibly sexually assaulted Jane Doe…while making a video of it on his cellular telephone,” according to the lawsuit.
The assault occurred on Dec. 28, 2015 during a winter break basketball tournament at Benton Harbor High School. Afterward, Bell, then a junior, shared footage of the assault with classmates. The victim’s family learned of the video through a school security officer.
After speaking out about the incident, the suit alleges that the victim endured “a great deal of ridicule, teasing, taunting her and violent outbursts from the other athletes.” One athlete told the victim, “You know you wanted it. Don’t ruin his life.”
The suit further alleges that the school did nothing to address the incident, despite the fact that at least one teacher and an athletic department assistant had knowledge of the video. The victim’s mother reported to police in January.
There were no consequences for Bell until March, when he admitted the assault to school authorities and was suspended. The suspension lasted less than a month, and Bell was allowed to rejoin athletics a week after returning to school.
Bell pleaded guilty in court on June 27, 2016 to assault with intent to commit sexual penetration, as reported by MLIVE. He was sentenced to one year in the Berrien County Jail, followed by five years’ probation. He will be on the state sex-offender registry for life.
The victim's family has now filed a Title IX lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against the district and several officials, claiming negligence in their response to the incident. The suit reads, "The school and its Title IX coordinator tried to cover up the unlawful activity they were engaged in to protect themselves and not Jane Doe."