JACKSON TWP — Mistakes were made throughout the criminal justice system in the case against T.F., a former Seneca Valley student whose parents filed a federal lawsuit last week.
That’s according to Tiffany Sizemore, an assistant clinical professor at Duquesne School of Law.
Michael Flood Jr., a district teacher, and his wife, Alecia Flood, of Zelienople, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, claiming their son, a minor at the time, was tormented and suffered physical and psychological trauma as a result of two false sexual assault allegations from other students at the school beginning in 2017.
“They want justice for their son,” said Craig Fishman, the Floods’ attorney. “We have a country that has the best system of justice on the planet, but it failed him.”
One problem Sizemore noted in the plaintiff’s treatment was his probation officer. The lawsuit claims the probation officer told the intermediate high school student that he was not allowed to tell anyone about or show his ankle monitor.
“I’ve never even heard of something like that,” Sizemore said. “Never heard of, never seen it happen, would dare say it’s probably illegal.”
Sizemore theorized that a basis for calling this particular order illegal would be as a violation of the student’s due process rights.
“He’s permitted to tell anyone he wants to about his case,” she said. “There’s nothing secret about being on ankle monitor.”
She also added that the ban on visitors the plaintiff was given is “unusual.” She said not being around children without an adult present could have been a possible requirement based on his charges, but it’s “not a standard condition.”
Most of Sizemore’s work, she said, is in Allegheny County, and some county-to-county differences may be variables in her opinion, but she said most of the law would be the same throughout Pennsylvania.
Fishman echoed Sizemore’s thoughts of treating the plaintiff unfairly.
“It took a considerable amount of time, money and efforts to get him exonerated,” Fishman said. “The boy was deprived of equal protection of the law.”
Part of the lawsuit’s language includes a case for discrimination on the basis of sex.
“Seneca Valley School District failed to discipline the girls or mark their academic records due to gender-based discrimination against males falsely accused of sexual assault,” the lawsuit alleges.
Fishman also affirmed that his client was treated unfairly by personnel involved in his case — even before his trials — due to his gender and the nature of the claims against him.
“The administrators, police and district attorney’s office all perceived the boy to be guilty before he was proved innocent,” he said.
Sizemore said this would be an “interesting time” to be a defense attorney for a case like this, particularly with the various movements and similarly themed cases happening on a national scale.
“There are people who do falsely accuse people,” she said. “It does happen, and I’m not saying it happens a lot, but it does happen. So we need to be careful when we say that you should never disbelieve someone who’s making an allegation.”
Fishman said the federal paperwork most likely had not been received by the defendants before the story of the lawsuit was published.
On Oct. 1, Katherine Huttinger, the district’s media support specialist, said in a statement that district officials believe the lawsuit, “is without merit.”
“We have followed all applicable laws, and we will vigorously defend ourselves throughout the process,” she wrote.
Huttinger’s statement Oct. 1 confirmed the school still had not been officially served with lawsuit papers, but was made aware of it through media attention. She wrote the district will comment further on the lawsuit, saying it is “ongoing litigation” and “federal privacy laws protect student information.”
Huttinger wrote the school’s first priority is “the safety and well-being of our students, staff, parents and volunteers who enter our buildings.” The school has policies and procedures in place to protect individuals, the statement reads. It did not specify those policies.
None of the parents involved in the lawsuit responded to a request for comment.
Fishman said the district’s “unfair” policies on handling bullies and lack of action when the truth came to light is part of what prompted his involvement in the case.
“They asked for the girls to be disciplined, and the school refused,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I filed suit.”