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Family of sex assault victim sues DOE, McKinley High staff

Peter Boylan
                                McKinley Principal Ron Okamura did not reply to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser request for comment. A DOE spokesperson declined comment, citing active or pending litigation.
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McKinley Principal Ron Okamura did not reply to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser request for comment. A DOE spokesperson declined comment, citing active or pending litigation.

The family of a former McKinley High School student is suing the state Department of Education and school personnel after their minor daughter was sexually assaulted in a boy’s bathroom by a ninth grader who had flashed a gun two hours before the February 2021 incident.

The male student was arrested and charged with first-degree sexual assault and prosecuted in Family Court. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by attorneys representing the family of the girl, lists DOE and 10 unnamed defendants.

The gun was a Daisy- brand airsoft pistol that resembles a real firearm.

Honolulu police, responding to a call from McKinley’s vice principal about the sexual assault, found the gun and an axe on the second- floor balcony of Building M on the school’s campus. Neither the gun nor the axe were used during the assault.

McKinley Principal Ron Okamura did not reply to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser request for comment. A DOE spokesperson declined comment, citing active or pending litigation.

“The safety of our children while on campus should always be one of the highest priorities within the Department of Education. It is more than just an expectation that we have as parents, it is a requirement under the law,” said Thomas Otake, an attorney representing the girl’s family.

“This is a tragic case of what can happen when school officials fail in their duties related to safety and security. The DOE needs to do better, and our clients hope this case will bring about much-needed improvements so nothing like this ever happens again.”

DOE’s Civil Rights Compliance Branch conducted an investigation into the Feb. 21, 2021, incident but the findings were not made public. It is not clear whether any communication about the incident was sent to McKinley High School parents.

According to the civil complaint filed last week in Circuit Court, the girl was attending classes at Mc­Kinley for the first time after remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. She followed the ninth grader and another boy to Building M during her lunch break after the ninth grader told her they would meet friends there.

Building M is located “on the outskirts of Mc­Kinley’s large 5-acre campus, near the corner of South King Street and Pensacola Street. It is far from the administration building, the cafeteria, the mall, and the main classroom buildings,” the lawsuit notes.

McKinley’s policy at the time reportedly required that the door to the boy’s bathroom in Building M remain locked at all times.

The on-campus security staff was assigned to patrol Building M, including the boy’s bathroom, and security cameras were positioned to surveil portions of the building, including the corridor in the immediate vicinity of the boy’s bathroom, according to the complaint.

Before the Feb. 21 assault took place, the boy’s bathroom in Building M “was unlocked, the hallway and other areas in the vicinity of the boy’s bathroom were vacant and deserted, there were no security personnel or Mc­Kinley staff in the area, and no one was monitoring the security cameras surveilling the area,” the lawsuit says.

The girl entered the bathroom with her alleged assailant after the other boy went in first. The ninth grader reportedly groped the girl, catching her by surprise, then forced her to have sex, according to the complaint. The other boy in the bathroom at the time told school officials and investigators that he heard her repeatedly demand an end to the assault, the lawsuit claims.

Police and McKinley High School administrators reviewed the surveillance video, which shows the three students entering and leaving the bathroom. When asked by a vice principal to report what had happened to her, the girl initially responded that she did not want to say because “the perpetrator had gang- related friends, and that he had a gun,” the lawsuit says.

McKinley administrators also failed to follow required safety measures after the girl told them the ninth grader had a gun on campus, the complaint alleges.

“Instead of urgently locking down the school and employing safety measures to address a gun on campus, McKinley administration telephoned the Perpetrator’s behavioral health specialist, who was meeting with the Perpetrator at the time,” according to the lawsuit.

The school allegedly knew the ninth grader had previously demonstrated aggressive and violent behavior after reporting being bullied. After police were called to respond to the sexual assault, the boy was told that someone was coming to get him and asked if he had any weapons in his possession.

“The Perpetrator became visibly agitated and ran out of the room with his backpack even though he was directed not to leave. The Perpetrator hid his gun and an ax nearby then returned to the room where he had met with the behavioral health specialist,” according to the complaint.

The girl underwent a medical examination following the sexual assault and also received medical care. She no longer attends the school.

The complaint says she and her parents “continue to struggle with the resulting trauma.”

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