La Vernia, Texas—population 1,200—has struggled to emerge from a cloud that covered the sports-obsessed town after rape allegations involving its most gifted athletes went public almost one year ago.
Now, a new family has filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming that a La Vernia coach witnessed and ignored two violent sexual assaults suffered by their son while he was on its basketball team.
The complaint alleges that a boy, listed as John Doe, was sexually assaulted more than 30 times between October 2016 and February 2017 in the La Vernia High School locker room, a shower at the school, during basketball practice, at other schools’ gyms, before and after basketball games, and after team dinners at other families’ homes.
All the while, according to the documents, Doe says he was threatened by teammates between assaults that they were “going to get you.”
In February of last year, a La Vernia student told local police he was sexually assaulted by varsity athletes. Ultimately, police found that the alleged abuse—perpetrated by players on the high school’s baseball, football, and basketball teams—targeted at least 10 victims and spanned more than three years. The full scale of the assaults is not yet publicly known, but it has roiled the tiny town about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio.
(The Texas Rangers and the State Attorney General’s Office have said the investigation is ongoing, but provided few other details.)
Varsity players on all three teams were accused of sodomizing younger teammates with baseball bats, flashlights, and carbon-dioxide tanks. A total of 13 students—six of them legally considered adults—were arrested and charged with either sexual assault or sexual assault of a child.
The suspects facing criminal charges include 17-year-old Alejandro Ibarra, 17-year-old Robert Olivarez Jr., and 18-year-old Dustin Norman. According to arrest affidavits, they stand accused of pushing down a 16-year-old boy on a bed while raping him with the threaded end of a carbon-dioxide tank.
Also charged were 18-year-old Colton Weidner, 18-year-old Christian “Brock” Roberts, and 18-year-old John Rutkowski—all members of the school’s basketball team. According to arrest affidavits, Weidner, Rutkowski, and an unidentified juvenile held down a 15-year-old while Roberts sodomized him with a flashlight.
It is unknown if the John Doe in the most recent lawsuit was a victim of these incidents—or a separate one entirely.
Each of the suspects have denied their involvement in the alleged crimes.
San Antonio Attorney Alfonso Cabanas, who represents Norman, told The Daily Beast on Friday that there is still no sign of indictments for any of the suspects. He said the AG’s office has sent over documents from the investigation, which are still under protective order, for the defense lawyers to review. Cabanas called the investigation “extremely slow.”
The first civil lawsuit lodged against the district was filed in April. It claimed that school coaches “sanctioned these rituals,” that it allowed a culture of hazing to flourish, and that other school officials “turned a blind eye toward the abuse, even after the abuse was reported to them.”
The new lawsuit, filed Jan. 23 in federal court in San Antonio, claims that Doe suffered physically, emotionally, and in academic performance because of the assaults. (The suit indicates that teammates who were accused of raping the student were among those arrested last year.)
In one instance, on Jan. 12, 2017, several teammates held the boy down and raped him with a flashlight, according to the lawsuit.
In another, at the Navarro High School gym on Jan. 20, 2017, Doe was sexually assaulted with his teammate’s fingers, the suit states. Though the boy says he was “screaming and yelling as loud as he could,” he claims nobody helped him—not his teammates, not the coach.
When he emerged from the gym, the coach was allegedly standing there idly.
“It was clear [the coach] heard the screaming and yelling,” according to the lawsuit. But he “ignored the assault and did nothing.”
That same coach, according to the suit, actually “observed” another assault, where “most” of the basketball team was present.
The coach “walked away and allowed such sexual assault to continue,” the complaint continues. “Despite actual knowledge of the incident, [the coach] conducted no investigation as to the events leading to and occurring during the sexual assault.”
The Daily Beast reported in August, in the course of an investigation into the assaults, that boys who were promoted to the varsity teams told their mothers they refused to shower in the locker room naked, over fears they would be targeted.
In the new lawsuit, John Doe echoes that fear, saying he began “having to shower with his underwear on to help deter and/or prevent future sexual assaults.”
La Vernia mothers told The Daily Beast in April that, according to their sons, once enough pairs of underwear were torn off and stuffed down the drains during the assaults, it clogged the pipes in the school. There were that many, they said.
John Doe’s parents claim the La Vernia Independent School District had a “deliberately indifferent response to multiple events of student-on-student sexual assault and subsequent sex-based harassment.” In doing so, the complaint alleges the school violated Title IX—the federal civil-rights law that protects against discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities.
The boy, according to the suit, suffered “mental anguish and physical impairment” and he is seeking damages to pay for the expenses he’ll incur for counseling and psychological treatment.
The suit states Doe is now attending a school in another district “because of the shame and humiliation created by the sexual harassment,” the suit says.
He is seeking a jury trial.
Gary Patterson, interim superintendent of La Vernia ISD, told The San Antonio Express-News that the district’s board of trustees was briefed on the lawsuit by its lawyers. Patterson took over after former Superintendent Jose Moreno—who came under fire for his handling of the scandal—resigned in November.
“We’re looking forward to resolution of these issues and are awaiting the results of the Texas Ranger investigation to assist the district as we move forward,” Patterson told the newspaper. “The district’s internal investigation is ongoing and in conjunction with the Rangers investigation.”