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Thursday, May 01 2014 09:06 PM

KHSD employees testify no cause for concern in alleged sexual assault case

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BY LAUREN FOREMAN Californian staff writer lforeman@bakersfield.com

Kern High School District employees testified in an alleged sexual assault case Thursday that when two autistic teenagers were caught half undressed in an Independence High School bathroom the female student did not seem traumatized.

Matthew Hoyt, the former special education aide at Independence who found the two students, said he did not believe the female student was harmed or that the students were involved in sexual activity, consensual or otherwise.

"There was no evidence for that," he said.

Kern County Superior Court Judge Lorna Brumfield and the jury heard testimony from four KHSD employees about the events of Oct. 15, 2009.

Under cross-examination by the girl's family's attorney, two of the four contradicted earlier statements made to police and Independence officials.

The girl's parents are suing KHSD for counseling and therapy for their daughter. The Californian does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, nor relatives, if doing so would make it possible to identify them.

In the legal complaint filed in 2010, the girl is identified as Jane Doe.

The parents allege that their then-15-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted moments before an aide found her in the school bathroom with a male classmate close behind her.

Both students were undressed from the waist down.

Under questioning by KHSD lawyer Leonard Herr, Hoyt said that when he noticed a male student was missing, he walked to find him and later found both him and female students undressed from the waist down and about "an inch" from each other.

"It didn't seem to be troubling," Hoyt said.

When cross-examined by the family's attorney, Ralph Wegis, Hoyt would not admit to saying the boy's groin was "pressed against" the girl, even though he used that phrasing in a Nov. 25, 2009 police report.

He also changed an earlier statement made to police that the girl held her head in her hands and rocked back and forth on the toilet after the incident. In court Thursday he said she sat on the toilet and repeated the same words.

Chris Herstam, a former special education teacher at Independence, had told police he had heard Hoyt yell from adjacent classroom shortly after he had gone searching for the missing student.

But today, when questioned by Wegis, Herstam said he couldn't recall telling police that Hoyt yelled.

Later, Julie Willis, a former special education specialist at Independence, testified that Hoyt didn't tell her anything "that would indicate trauma or something horrible had happened."

Why would she need to know that, Wegis asked.

Willis answered that she wanted to know because had there been an assault she would have needed to contact the girl's parents.

The students were discovered about 11:15 a.m. The girl's parents weren't notified until more than five hours later, after the regular school day ended and the two had attended an after-school program together.

In an interview after testimony ended Thursday, Herr said the case was not about whether two students had consensual sex or an assault occurred.

"It's like if you're in preschool, and you have a 3- or 4-year-old, and they're running around with their clothes off," he said, as the students involved have the mental capacity of small children. "That would not be traumatizing."

The girl's parents disgreed.

Outside the courtroom, they said they saw their daughter change after the alleged incident, from a girl who would dress herself each morning to someone who only wanted to stay in bed under the covers.

The couple said they wanted a trial to prevent the district from treating another student with special needs the way their daughter was treated.

"They denied her basic human rights," the father said.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday.

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