Amended suit claims discipline biased Zelienople family of teenager suing Seneca Valley, parents

June 12, 2019 Cranberry Local News


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PITTSBURGH — An amended lawsuit filed by a Zelienople family involving false sexual assault accusations against a teenage boy hones in on the Seneca Valley School District's “gender-biased” selective enforcement of bullying and sexual assault policies.

The amended complaint lists the school district as a defendant; along with David and Christy Sherk as parents of minor K.S.; David and Christine Seaman as parents of C.S.; Cris and Kimberly Salancy as parents of minor E.S.; and David and Lynn Reina, both individually and as parents of H.R.

The amended complaint no longer includes as defendants Butler County, the Butler County District Attorney's Office, George Villegas Jr., Pam Villegas and Meghan Villegas, all of whom were named in the original lawsuit filed last fall. During oral arguments in Pittsburgh in April, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Hornak advised the Floods' attorney, Craig Fishman, to amend the complaint to include only the individuals or entities against which he felt he had sufficient evidence.

That amended three-count complaint filed May 30 states K.S., C.S., E.S. and H.R. falsely accused T.F. of criminal conduct, including sexual assault. As a result, T.F. was bullied at school and forced to make numerous court appearances and be placed in juvenile detention. He also suffered a “loss of his liberty, psychological and physical injuries” before the girls “reluctantly” admitted to making false accusations.

However, the amended complaint argues that despite their admission, “Seneca Valley School District failed to discipline the girls.”

The school district is accused of violating the 14th Amendment of the Constitution by selectively enforcing student conduct policies. The 14th Amendment ensures equal protection of the law.

The complaint contends the four girls violated school policies dealing with sexual assault, unlawful harassment and bullying. School policy states that “false accusations ... will result in severe disciplinary action comparable to the discipline which could be imposed upon an individual found guilty of harassment.” The complaint further points to school policy that states, “The district also recognizes that false allegations of sexual harassment can have serious effects on the innocent men and women.”

Making false accusations in an effort to harm someone is also addressed by school policies, with the building principal given the authority to administer disciplinary action. The complaint points out that the principal is also responsible for investigating reports, making the principal “the de facto policymaker in cases such as this one.”

The amended complaint now presents five additional incidents, all separate from the Flood case, yet similar in that they involve false accusations being made against male students. Those students were later punished, according to the complaint. The plaintiffs further state they are unaware of females being disciplined for making false reports or violating the school's anti-sexting policy.

The complaint argues the district and principal have shown a practice or policy of failing to investigate or discipline females reporting harassment or assault, but do investigate and discipline the males alleged to have committed similar offenses.

“This policy is biased in favor of female students and against male students and is so permanent and well-settled as to virtually constitute law,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint alleges the school's policies are “gender-neutral on their face,” but were enforced in a gender-biased manor.

According to the complaint, on one hand the district and principal failed to investigate or discipline students because of actions that took places outside of school. However, the complaint points out that this approach is contradicted by T.F. being disciplined for alleged incidents involving him that took place outside of school.

The complaint further states both the district and principal “have attempted to explain why they did not investigate and discipline female students, indicating that the decision was intentional.” However, the complaint concludes the decision is “irrational and arbitrary.”

“The rules applied to all students, but were only applied and enforced as to T.F.,” the complaint argues. “A male student's right to be free from gender-based discrimination is a clearly defined constitutional right.”

The complaint also accuses K.S. of defamation due to her false statements, and also accuses C.S., E.S. and H.R. of defamation for the statements regarding T.F. entering the Seaman residence.

The Floods seek to recover damages pursuant to state law, plus court and attorney fees. The complaint states the Floods are not pursuing the suit for financial gain, but rather “to recover the amounts paid for medical treatment of T.F.”

TIMELINE

PITTSBURGH — An amended complaint filed last week by the Flood family of Zelienople outlines two incidents in which their son was the alleged victim of false accusations.

The amended complaint names as defendants the Seneca Valley School District; David and Christy Sherk as parents of minor K.S.; David and Christine Seaman as parents of C.S.; Cris and Kimberly Salancy as parents of minor E.S.; and David and Lynn Reina, both individually and as parents of H.R.

Below is a timeline of events as detailed in the complaint.

Summer 2017: T.F. employed as a lifeguard at the Zelienople Community Pool. He was fired after K.S., a co-worker, reportedly told a supervisor he sexually assaulted her.

October 2017: Students told T.F. that K.S. said she would do anything to get him expelled from school. T.F.'s mother, Alecia Flood, addressed the threat with an assistant principal.

K.S. later told a guidance counselor she was sexually assaulted by T.F., and the counselor reported the case to ChildLine. A forensic interviewer spoke to K.S., and T.F. was charged with indecent assault and two counts of harassment.

K.S. also told school administrators that T.F. made her feel uncomfortable, which led to T.F.'s schedule and class being changed. T.F. was not allowed to contact his mother about the matter.

November 2017: The Floods accept a consent decree through the County District Attorney's Office in which T.F. did not admit guilt, but remained on probation for six months.

March 2018: T.F. received a Snapchat message from C.S. inviting him to hang out at her house. T.F. arrived and stayed for a short period of time before leaving.

Students allegedly overheard K.S. preparing C.S. to make a false report about T.F.

C.S. reported T.F. came to her home uninvited and sexually assaulted her, but H.R. allegedly provided conflicting accounts of the events.

Rumors spread throughout the school that day, citing minors giving accounts of the incident, including that T.F. hit C.S., H.R. and E.S. with a mobile phone charging cable, forced C.S. to touch his penis, and that T.F. was rumored to have raped C.S.

April 2018: T.F. was charged with indecent assault forcible compulsion, criminal trespass and simple assault. He was removed from the school in leg and wrist shackles, and taken to a juvenile detention facility, where he stayed for nine days before being released with an ankle monitor. The probation office allowed him to play baseball, but district officials denied the request.

Spring 2018: T.F. was homebound for 50 days.

The Floods found another male student who had been invited to C.S.'s residence the same evening and discovered a Snapchat message that allegedly confirmed the false reports, and obtained several written statements further affirming the point.

May 2018: C.S., E.S. and H.R. allegedly admitted to lying about the matter to the district attorney's office.

August 2018: All charges against T.F. were dismissed.

October 2018: The Flood's file their original lawsuit claiming T.F. suffered physically and emotionally as a result of the allegations, including digital and in-person harassment.

April 2019: The Floods were advised to amend their lawsuit.

May 2019: The Floods re-file an amended complaint.

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J.W.  Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr. is the bureau chief of the Cranberry Eagle. Johnson is a native of Bellaire, Ohio, and graduated from Bellaire High School in 2004. He is a 2009 graduate of Ohio University in Athens with a bachelor of specialized studies degree in English and journalism. While there, he served as a reporter and editor at The Post, the university’s student-run, independent newspaper. In 2009, he was hired as a reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, W.Va. Over the course of eight years, he also served as Marshall County bureau chief, city editor and news editor. He also won two first place West Virginia Press Association Awards for his reporting and design work. He and his wife, Maureen, live in Carnegie.