A day after it was revealed that a Saratoga 15-year-old girl committed suicide after she was allegedly raped by fellow high school boys, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith explained that detectives had long known about the allegations.
NBC Bay Area has learned that three 16-year-old boys were cited in September on a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery and then released.
"We initially knew the people involved," Smith said, but there were "dozens" of interviews that had to be conducted and search warrants served. "We wanted a solid case before moving forward."
Smith told NBC Bay on Friday that rape investigations typically take a very long time, especially when investigators have to look at a lot of "electronic evidence," such as cell phone texts and computer forensics.
Her comments came after NBC Bay Area was the first to report on Thursday that Audrie Pott of Saratoga committed suicide Sept. 10, 2012, eight days after three 16-year-old boys had allegedly sexually assaulted her and posted the photos of her online. Her attorney, Robert Allard, said that "based on what we know," Audrie was intoxicated, unconsious and "there were multiple boys in the room with her. They did unimaginable things to her..."
The boys were arrested on Thursday - seven months after the alleged incident. They are now in juvenile hall, though no charges have been formally filed. They are expected to appear in court next Tuesday.
Their lawyers released the following statement late Friday claiming the suicide had nothing to do with their clients:
Much of what has been reported over the last several days is inaccurate. Most disturbing is the attempt to link Audrey’s [sic] suicide to the specific actions of these three boys.
We are hopeful that everyone understands that these boys, none of whom have ever been in trouble with the law, are to be regarded as innocent.
Due to the juvenile nature of the proceedings, we believe it inappropriate to comment further at this time.
The release was signed, Eric. S. Geffon, Alan M. Lagod, Benajmin W. Williams.
NBC Bay Area doesn't normally identify victims of sexual assault or suicide, but have used the girl’s name in this report with her parents’ permission. They are hoping the story will help prevent something like this from every happening to anyone else.
Allard said the girl took her life after learning that her attackers took photos during the assault, and then published them online and showed them around school.
Family members of Audrie accused the suspects of attempting to destroy evidence in the case.
On Friday, they posted a message on a Facebook page honoring the girl, saying that the male teens who allegedly attacked her tried to cover up their actions.
We suspect that the boys who we believe are responsible for Audrie’s death took deliberate steps to destroy evidence and interfere with the police investigation. If students have information about this crime, if they saw pictures or know anything that will assist in bringing these young men to justice, please come forward. Audrie's family is asking for any students with information to please contact our attorney, Robert Allard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-289-1417
Sheriff Smith told the NBC Bay Area investigative unit that her department does in fact believe it is missing a key piece of evidence. She described it as a "critical elecronic device" that has not been turned over. It appeared the sheriff may have been hoping to get pictures relating to the case from that device.
The family has scheduled a press conference for Monday morning at a San Jose hotel ballroom.
This is not the first high-profile rape case of a young woman investigated by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.
In March 2007, members of the De Anza College baseball team were accused of raping a drunk 17-year-old girl. In that case, the district attorney at the time, Dolores Carr, ended up not filing charges against the young men because she didn't feel there were sufficient charges to convince a jury. In 2008, the Attorney General's Office agreed, even though her decision not to prosecute was questioned widely.
And in a case eerily similar to Audrie's, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons of Halifax, Novia Scotia in Canada, was taken off life support on Sunday, three days after she tried to hang herself. She had been allegedly sexually assaulted by four boys in November 2011 when she was 15 and then relentlessly cyberbullied.
The Canadian authorities had conducted a yearlong investigation into the rape, but no charges were ever filed.
Also on Friday, the Los Gatos-Saratoga High School Union District Supt. Bob Mistele issued a statement:
"Our sympathies go out to all of the families affected by this tragic situation. We are cooperating with law enforcement as they continue to look into the details of this case. Collaborating with our parents, students, staff and community we will continue to work diligently to maintain a positive climate at our high schools based on respect, responsibility, and open communication that discourages cyber bullying and inappropriate conduct."