Jury finds Hawaii school failed to protect special ed girl from rape
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal jury awarded a 19-year-old woman and her family $810,000 Monday after it found Hawaii's public school system failed to protect her from a classmate's sexual assault in 2012.
The family's lawyers had asked for $3.2 million.
The jury of eight men and three women found that negligence by the Department of Education contributed to the sex assault.
"We're very happy, I'm glad that it's over," said Angelia Kauhako, the mother of victim Mariana Harris. The two spoke publicly to reporters after the ruling.
Harris was a 16-year-old freshman at Waianae High School when she was allegedly raped by a special education classmate in a unisex bathroom. Harris has the intellectual ability of a second grader, her mother said.
On Monday, she spoke publicly for the first time.
"It's not OK for people to get sexually assaulted and I want people to know they need to be safe," Harris said.
During the trial, the state presented surveillance video implying the two students were never in the bathroom at the same time, but attorney Michael Green says it was flimsy evidence.
"This girl goes to the bathroom five times a day, even the teacher said she didn't buy the video tape," said Green. "They lost the date, the time, they destroyed it. This is offensive stuff and this jury saw through it."
While the jury awarded the money to Harris' family, the school system is not required to make any changes.
Nonetheless, Kauhako says the ruling is a wake-up call.
"Make an extra effort to see what is the truth and if a parent asks for extra protection, the parents do know what's best for their children," said Kaukaho.
Green added, "I am convinced these schools in this state will take a clear notice of this verdict and make sure special kids are treated with dignity and safety."
Harris transferred high schools after the incident and is expected to graduate this year. "I'm happy that I'm better now," Harris said.
The state also sued the alleged rapist, saying that if it was found liable, the boy should be responsible. However, the jury found him not responsible. He was never arrested or charged.
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