MeTooLGHS

Los Gatos High School Scandal Impacted by Audrie Pott Case, Family Says

After a wave of sex assault accusations by LGHS students, NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit looks at concerns the school district mishandled the 2012 Audrie Pott case sending a dangerous message to students.

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A family involved in a past tragedy with Los Gatos–Saratoga Union High School District says they are saddened but not surprised by a recent outpouring of student sex assault reports by current and former Los Gatos High School students.

Los Gatos High School (LGHS) is one of the district’s two high schools. The other is Saratoga High School.

“I really thought things had changed,” Sheila Pott said.

Audrie Pott’s Case

Pott’s daughter, Audrie, was a sophomore at Saratoga High School in 2012 when she took her own life.

It happened eight days after she attended a party where three male students also attending the school admitted they sexually assaulted the 15-year-old, took photos of her and wrote lewd messages on her private areas when she was passed out.

Two of the boys were sentenced to 30 days in juvenile hall, served on weekends. The third boy was sentenced to 45 consecutive days.

No one was expelled from Saratoga High School.

Pott believes that decision to allow the boys back on campus sent a dangerous message to students at both high schools.  

It sent a strong message that 'young women, don't come forward if you're assaulted.'

Sheila Pott, Audrie's mother

“It sent a strong message that ‘young women, don’t come forward if you’re assaulted because the case won’t be taken seriously and you’ll have to walk the halls with the people who assaulted you,’” Pott said. “And to the boys, it’s not going to be taken seriously. You might get a little slap on the hand.”

Since last summer, dozens of current and former LGHS students – including Mia Lozoya, Abbi Berry and Lyssa Broomfield – have shared accusations on social media of being sexually assaulted or harassed by other students.


Part 1 of Investigation: Los Gatos High School Hit by Student Sex Assault Accusations

A wave of student sex assault claims has hit Los Gatos. Its high school district is accused of allowing a culture of denial. Candice Nguyen looks into the emotionally-charged movement that has many split.

The young women say LGHS and the school district failed to establish a culture for safe reporting. They and other teens started a grassroot movement called #MeTooLGHS where organizers have called for change and accountability within the high school and district – two things Sheila Pott questions after the superintendent re-hired Paul Robinson to be interim principal of Los Gatos High School last year after the school principal unexpectedly resigned for personal reasons at the end of the last school year.

Robinson was the same principal in Pott's case at Saratoga High School.

“It was like they stabbed me again,” Sheila Pott said. “How could they have done any due diligence in researching and providing the right principal for that high school knowing what happened in the past?”

Pott is talking about mistakes she and former San Jose Police Detective Mike Leininger believe the school and school district made in her daughter’s case. The Pott’s family attorney hired Leininger as a private investigator to help early on.

“I believe the school district handled it very poorly,” Leininger said.

Concerns With the School’s Investigation

One example, according to Leininger, is Robinson previously downplaying student misconduct to the Mercury News, saying rumors of Audrie Pott being bullied were “as far from the truth as it can be.”

Robinson reportedly made that statement even though an incident report obtained by the Investigative Unit shows the district knew of possible bullying one day after Pott’s suicide.

Three days after the suicide, Robinson had sent an email to the superintendent detailing the sexual assault claims, the boys removing Pott’s top and bra and writing on her body.

“I see reputation being the standard as to what [the district is] going to base [its] decisions on – how it’s going to affect the reputation of the school,” Leininger said.

The School and District’s Response

The Investigative Unit reached out to Superintendent Mike Grove for months requesting an interview. He was not with the district during the Pott case. Our team also reached out to Paul Robinson and Cynthia Chang who has been a district board trustee for years and was the board president when Audrie Pott died. Grove, Robinson and Chang all declined interviews.

In emails, Grove defended hiring Robinson saying “Paul [is] a beloved and respected figure.” The district is getting a new permanent principal in July, Grove added.

The district also expanded counseling services and student policies, launched an independent inquiry and is “committed to … taking a hard look at the reality of teen sexual harassment and assault.” Grove released an email and this pre-recorded video to parents before the publication of the Investigative Unit's reporting.

Sheila Pott believes the district’s words aren’t always aligned with its actions.

“It was a terrible example for the boys [in my daughter’s case] to remain on campus,” she said.

Young women like Lozoya and Broomfield agree. Broomfield said when she was sexually assaulted by another student, the school and the town did not provide an environment where she felt safe to report.

“I didn’t think there was any way anyone would believe me,” Broomfield said.

Lozoya reported her alleged assault and said she was revictimized because the school wasn’t prepared for her Title IX investigation. She said the district only changed her schedule to try and avoid her alleged abuser.

Grove said the district provided Title IX resources to Lozoya and her parents and met with multiple Title IX investigators to look into claims around the school’s culture.

“We take allegations of sexual harassment or assault seriously and do everything we can within the law to appropriately investigate situations, to support students, and to educate our student and staff about these issues,” Grove wrote in an email.

In both Lozoya and Broomfield cases, the girls and their families said they ended up moving out of Los Gatos.

“It just got to a point where I started to see [my alleged abuser] too often and it was too hard to be here,” Lozoya said.

The Investigative Unit reached out to the families of their alleged abusers. One did not respond and the other had no comment.


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Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter with NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit. Contact her about this story or others by emailing candice.nguyen@nbcuni.com.

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