East High Administrators Didn't Report Student Rape, DA Charges

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Andy Mendelsberg, who retired as principal of East High School last September after videos of cheerleaders being forced into splits went viral, is among five people, including four current East administrators, charged with failing to report an alleged rape of a female student by a male pupil. Probable cause statements in the case, which is unrelated to the cheerleader scandal, tell a heartbreaking tale about disturbing revelations, persistent bullying, lingering pain and bureaucratic actions and inactions that the Denver District Attorney's Office considers to be criminal.

Documents in the case are accessible below, as is a letter to East parents from current principal John Youngquist, who preceded Mendelsberg in the position prior to resigning in 2011 to take on a principal-development role with Denver Public Schools; he was brought back last fall. In the letter, Youngquist maintains that school personnel reported the sexual assault in a timely manner, and a DPS spokesman says the same thing in comments also shared here.

Nonetheless, Denver DA spokesman Ken Lane confirms that on Monday, April 16, Mendelsberg, East vice principal Jann Peterson, counselor Anita Curtiss and deans Jen Sculley and Eric Sinclair each received a summons for failing to report an alleged sexual assault, a third-degree misdemeanor. Their first court appearances are currently scheduled for May.

"State law requires certain categories of persons, including school officials or employees, to report, or cause a report to be made, to the local county child welfare agency or local law enforcement agency an incident of alleged child abuse or neglect after receiving information of such," Lane states. "The Denver Police Department began an investigation into the alleged assault and failure to report in November 2017, when the victim’s parents directly contacted the police department."

The police reports for Mendelsberg and company vary, but they all begin on Saturday, March 12, 2016, when a female East attendee went to the Denver home of a male student to watch a movie. There, "the victim was sexually assaulted by the suspect," the documents note.

The female student didn't immediately tell authorities about what happened to her, the PC statements continue. But the following Monday, March 14, she became upset while in class at East, and after heading to the restroom, she broke down in tears. A fellow student subsequently escorted her to the office of a school counselor, who was unavailable. A staff member then connected the female student with Sculley. In addition to telling the dean about the assault, she reportedly showed her a bruise that resulted from it.

Sculley reacted by taking the female student to see counselor Curtiss. After the two East stafffers conferred privately outside Curtiss's office, they reportedly asked the student if she wanted to press charges in the matter and told her that "if she talks to the suspect again," she wouldn't be able to do so. "At that time, the victim didn't understand what that meant and told them both no," the documents note, adding "the victim did request that it be written down and put in the other student/suspect's file."

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It's been a tumultuous year for East High School.
File photo
Sculley next called the female student's father; the report quotes her as using the words "sex assault with a male peer" during the conversation. Later that day, both of her parents met with the dean, who allegedly told them "it would be very hard on the victim if they moved forward with charges," the report continues. "Both parents say okay, but they specifically tell Sculley they want it documented in the other student's file. Sculley assures both parents that she will document it."

From there, things only got worse for the female student, according to the probable cause statements specific to Sculley and Curtiss. On March 15, the student went to Sculley's office "looking for help" after facing "backlash from peers." The report states that Sculley told the student "she has seen this behavior in a lot of the students at East High School, and the quicker she moves on, the better. Sculley also tells her that this is their little secret."

The Curtiss probable cause document alludes to a visit from the female student during the week of March 14-21, during which she divulged that she was "suffering from anxiety, lack of sleep and nightmares about the assault. She also reported growing tension with peers and backlash from them. Curtiss told the victim some things are just more traumatizing for others and to find new friends already. In addition, Curtiss told the victim that if she had contact with the suspect, she would be disciplined for harassing him."

The next week, another student concerned about the victim's continued struggles reached out to Curtiss on her behalf. After another followup with the victim, the report states, Curtiss promised "she would meet with her weekly and did not."

Dean Sinclair and Vice Principal Peterson entered the picture in January 2017, according to the documents. At that time, the victim was being "bullied and blackmailed by a friend of the suspect's" and turned to Sinclair, who "told her he couldn't do anything about the bullying."

That wasn't good enough for the female student's parents, who scheduled a sit-down with Sinclair also attended by Peterson — and Mendelsberg stepped in at one point; "he was checking on the victim to see if she was okay," a report notes. After the female student related what she'd gone through over the previous ten months or so, Peterson "got choked up and told the victim and her parents that it was one of the worst stories of bullying she has ever heard," and Sinclair pledged to offer his assistance if the victim could prove her claims.

The next day, the Sinclair statement says, the female student "printed out screenshots of text messages and social media posts and the names of the students who were bullying her for reporting the sex assault," but "Dean Sinclair filed the paperwork away in a cabinet and did not act."

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Former East High School principal Andy Mendelsberg in an interview about the cheerleading controversy last year.
The next chapter begins in April 2017. As outlined in Mendelsberg's police report, the female student's parents decided to pull her out of the school because she was still suffering. As part of the process, "the parents obtained her file from the academic counselor and observed there was no documentation about the sex assault to their daughter and very little documentation about the bullying she endured as a result."

Approximately one week later, the Mendelsberg statement notes, the student's parents were told the principal objected to her departure. But when they met with him shortly thereafter, he had to ask a co-worker "who their daughter was, because he didn't know her" — a remark that appears to contradict his visit during the Sinclair-Peterson meeting in January.

Despite being "incredulous" over Mendelsberg's claim, the parents went over the events again, the report says, telling the principal about the sex assault and how the school's only concrete action was removing the alleged assaulter from a class in which their daughter was enrolled. Mendelsberg emphasized that "this is all 'new news' to him and he had not heard about it from another dean or teacher. He tells the parents to have their daughter find a new group of friends to hang out with."

Months more had passed when, in September 2017, the female student and her parents saw a news story about the obligation of school officials to report offenses like the one experienced by the victim. But messages left with Denver Public Schools went nowhere, according to the Mendelsberg police report. It wasn't until November, when an East High resource officer received information about the incidents from new principal Youngquist and advised the female student's father to file a report with the Denver Police Department, that the investigation got under way in earnest.

Last month, the male student involved in the March 2016 incident was charged with one felony count of sexual assault in juvenile court. Meanwhile, East High is being rocked by yet another scandal — and this one doesn't seem likely to go away anytime soon.

Click to access the aforementioned East High School probable cause statements. Below, find the letter to parents from Principal Youngquist and the Denver Public Schools statement.

Letter from East High School principal John Youngquist:

Dear East High School Families,

It is our priority to keep you informed about matters related to our school. You may hear in the media that the Denver District Attorney announced that charges were filed against five current and former East High School employees for failure to report an alleged sexual assault between two students that occurred off-campus in March 2016. Our records here indicate that our employees did notify the Denver Police Department of this incident in March 2016. We will continue to work with the Police and District Attorney going forward to understand better their concerns in this case.

The employees involved are Jann Peterson, Jen Sculley, Eric Sinclair, and Anita Curtiss. Former principal Andy Mendelsberg is also being charged.

We know how important it is to ensure that any student who has concerns about inappropriate or unlawful sexual behavior be fully supported and that concerns about abuse be promptly reported to law enforcement. As you know, we have strong policies and procedures in place to support students and are committed to ensuring a safe learning environment in our schools.

We are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all our students, at East High School and throughout Denver Public Schools. We will provide additional information when we can.

I want to thank you for your support, patience and continued commitment to the students and families of East High School. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have questions or concerns.


John Youngquist

Statement from Denver Public Schools spokesperson Will Jones:

"We know how important it is to ensure that any student who has concerns about inappropriate or unlawful sexual behavior be fully supported and that concerns about abuse be promptly reported to law enforcement. We have strong policies and procedures in place to support students and are committed to ensuring a safe learning environment in our schools. Our records indicate that the district did notify the Denver Police Department of this incident in March 2016. We will continue to work with the police and District Attorney going forward to understand better their concerns in this case."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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