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‘They made me feel worse’: Former Myers Park HS students question CMPD response to rape reports

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 2:43 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Six women have come forward to publicly detail what happened after they reported being raped or sexually assaulted by a fellow student at Myers Park High School.

Each woman reported to both school administrators and police. And each woman says they left their interactions with police feeling as though nothing was going to happen.

In the face of months of scrutiny of how Myers Park and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrators have handled reports of sexual violence from these women and others, questions of why none of the women’s reports resulted in criminal charges have lingered.

Previous: CMS failed to track reported rapes, assaults on campus

Court records show that, in at least one case, a CMPD officer said he was given dubious legal advice from a department lawyer that led him to dismiss one reported rape almost as soon as he heard about it.

The court records and interviews with the six women raise new questions for police, that CMPD leadership refused to answer for this story.

A department spokesman refused to schedule an interview and, in a statement, said CMPD could not answer questions because of ongoing litigation.

“We encourage community members who have been criminally victimized to report it and allow the CMPD to conduct an investigation,” CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano said. “Given the current litigation, the department will refrain from providing additional comments at this time.”

‘It seems like she was the defendant’

WBTV first started investigating CMPD’s handling of reported sexual violence at Myers Park High School in 2015, after a student there reported being raped in the woods adjacent to campus during the school day.

That student, who later filed a lawsuit under the pseudonym Jane Doe against CMS and CMPD school resource officer Bradley Leak, texted her mom and her friends in an effort to get help while she was in the woods.

“Mom I’m being kidnapped,” the female texted at 7:18 a.m., text messages provided by the family show. “Call somebody. Don’t call me.”

A minute later, the student texted a group message to her friends at school saying “Call the cops.” When a friend responded why, she replied by telling them to find the school resource officer, CMPD officer Bradley Leak.

Related: Former Myers Park HS student sues school district over handling of rape allegations

More than 30 minutes later—after unsuccessfully texting both her parents and her group of friends in hopes an officer would come find her—she texted at 8:05 a.m. “I was attacked. I feel so gross.”

A recording provided by the parents of the female student shows friends approached the school resource officer for help but he declined to look for her, saying he had seen her leaving campus hand-in-hand with the male student.

After she was found, Doe’s parents took her to the hospital for a rape kit. Police did not come by to collect the rape kit for hours, despite four calls from the hospital and a call from Doe’s mom.

In 2015, a CMPD major who spoke to WBTV called the failure of CMPD to pick up the rape kit “regrettable.”

‘They just abandoned me, too’

But Jane Doe is not the only Myers Park student who reported her rape or sexual assault to police only to have an experience that left them wanting justice.

Serena Evans, who reported being raped by a fellow student in a bathroom one day after school in 2016, said police did little to investigate after her report.

Evans recalled a detective telling her that she didn’t have a case because she untied her shorts at the direction of the man she said raped her, after he had already forced her to perform oral sex on him.

“A detective for minors sat across from me and told me that nothing like that would ever happen to her because she wouldn’t allow it,” Evans recalled.

Evans said the detective’s investigation appeared to consist only of interviewing her and her alleged rapist before closing the case.

“They made me feel worse,” she said.

“It’s the police. Like, when you have an emergency, you call 911. And for them to just say ‘sorry,’ it was like I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

Previous: More women detail reported rape, assault at Myers Park as school leaders remain silent

Another former Myers Park Student, who filed a declaration in Doe’s lawsuit, said she reported being raped in the fall 2014 to Leak, the Myers Park school resource officer. In an interview with WBTV, woman said she reported what happened but never got any follow-up.

“The police never followed up with us and he even told me that if I did try to get the police involved, it would be like a really long and hard difficult path for me and they might not even believe me because I didn’t have the physical evidence anymore and it would basically be, I guess, my word against the attacker’s word,” she recalled.

Separately, a different former student who reported being repeatedly sexually assaulted on the school bus in 2018 said it took CMPD about two weeks to file her report after she called police.

“There was no effort on their part to help me,” she said.

“The lack of response that I have gotten from CMPD has been a little bit upsetting.”

‘It was not coercion’

In one case, Leak, the former CMPD resource officer assigned to Myers Park High School, testified that a women who reported being raped didn’t have a criminal case because she had previously had sex with the male student she said raped her.

Nikki Wombwell—who filed and settled a lawsuit against Leak, CMS and others using the pseudonym Jill Roe—reported being raped by a fellow student in 2014.

Leak testified under oath in a deposition that he called a CMPD lawyer, Judy Emken, for advice on how to handle Wombwell’s case.

“Judy Emkens (sic) told us that we had nothing simply because if she did it more than one time it wasn’t necessarily – well, when I say multiple times, I ain’t saying just once or twice but multiple times. It was not coercion,” Leak testified.

Previous: Myers Park HS students reported rape, sexual assault. Nothing happened.

Leak testified that Wombwell wasn’t raped because she had previously had sex with the male student over the previous two months.

But Emken contradicted Leak’s testimony in a statement to WBTV.

“I cannot, however, recall any specifics of a telephone conversation with Officer Leak relating to these specific facts of concerning the sexual assault/rape on the campus of Myers Park High School in 2014,” Emken said.

Emken noted that she retired from CMPD in January 2019 and didn’t have access to any CMPD documents or reports but said, based on her knowledge of the law, she would not advised Leak in the way he testified.

“As a police attorney, if I was given that particular set of facts, I would not have advised Officer Leak that such conduct was not a crime and should not be charged nor that ‘we had nothing simply because if she did it more than one time...It was not coercion involved,’” Emken said, quoting from Leak’s testimony.

After this story was first published, Wombwell told WBTV that she had not had sex with the male student she said attacked her before the incident that led to her reporting being raped. Wombwell said she told Leak she had not previously had sex with the student that reportedly raped her.

Leak, who is also retired from CMPD, did not respond to a voicemail from WBTV left at a number listed for him.

CMPD destroys phone, email records

CMPD has denied records requests from WBTV seeking Emken’s and Leak’s phone and email records that would shed light on how the department responded to reports of sexual violence at Myers Park High School.

In a letter to lawyers for WBTV, a CMPD attorney said the records no longer exist.

North Carolina law, no part of a government lawyer’s communication with clients is privileged starting three years after the communication.

But a CMPD lawyer confirmed to lawyers for WBTV that records for the cell phones assigned to Emken and Leak were destroyed after both of them retired.

Specifically, the lawyer said, both cell phones were “wiped” and a factory reset was performed after they turned in their phones.

The CMPD lawyer also said emails from the year 2018 are “no longer available due to a transition of systems and email migration.”

State law and guidelines from the N.C. State Archives prohibits the wholesale destruction of records and specifically requires attorney communication to be kept for at least five years.

So far, WBTV’s attorneys have not received additional response from CMPD lawyers seeking clarity on why the department destroyed records.

This story as been updated with additional information from Nikki Wombwell in response to sworn testimony from Bradley Leak.

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