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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

News analysis: Pott case a year later

A year from yesterday, a student at our school died. She was, by all accounts, a complex, loved girl who had once wanted to travel the world and fly. But her life changed when she was allegedly sexually assaulted by those that had been her friends — friends who took pictures of the event — and her life ended in suicide.
Today, two of the students charged as part of the sexual assault are back at school — walking the same hallways that then-sophomore Audrie Pott had once wandered. The school she had attended is more or less the same, unchanged but for an aberration to its sterling record. 
At the same time, the fallout from her death has only expanded a year later. 
Two legal cases currently exist. One, a wrongful death civil suit; the other, the criminal case dealing with the alleged sexual assault. 
In the civil case, the family has since named the three boys’ parents, the owners of the house where the party took place (since settled out of court), and a then-sophomore girl — ”Jane C.” — who is accused of abetting the sexual assault. 
The Pott family has also filed a legal claim against the Los Gatos Saratoga Union High School district for alleged negligence in dealing with Pott’s bullying before and after the assault, reserving their right to legal action until October. Whether or not the family will follow through with a lawsuit is unknown. 
The district has denied that Pott reported any bullying, though the family claims to have met with the administration a year before Pott’s death to discuss their daughter’s being bullied. The record of that meeting, if it did occur, has been lost. 
Principal Paul Robinson, much maligned in the national media but defended at home, told the San Jose Mercury News last September that the notion that bullying contributed to Pott’s death was "as far from the truth as it can be."
Last spring, sources close to Pott told The Falcon that allegations that her suicide was related only to the sexual assault were untrue — as were claims that said that bullying played no role. 
Rather, these students cited bullying that Pott experienced, largely at the hands of her female friends. Friends also spoke of Pott experiencing periods of depression. 
Backlash against the Pott family from residents who felt unfairly vilified followed the legal actions against the district. Some residents felt the family was placing the blame onto the school, when — one resident said — the fault lies partly on the parents themselves. 
The verbal battle has often pitted the Potts against Saratoga, and understanding for the family has dwindled since they filed an action against the district. Mother Sheila Pott, speaking at an April news conference, said of the Saratoga mentality, “‘Oh my God, if we get a bad reputation, our property values will go down.’ It’s that shallow.”
An unanswered question
Last fall, two of the three boys were removed from the football team, but not from the school — they left in April after the arrests. In its response to the accusations by the Pott family, the district stated that, among other reasons, the boys weren’t expelled from school because “while education is a fundamental right, participation in sports is a privilege.” 
Yet this claim, under new evidence, has been called into question. 
The revocation of sports privileges did not extend to the winter season for all of the boys. One — identified in the case as “John R.” — competed on the wrestling team last winter. This may have occurred because the boy had shown an improvement in character, though it is unclear how much the administration knew about his actions at that time. 
Members of the wrestling team had heard about John R.’s alleged actions, but one student — citing how wrestling is more of an individual sport — said that few really took notice or cared that John R. was still on the team. 
A flurry of subpoenas
Alleging a cover-up by the administration, Pott family attorney Robert Allard has issued several subpoenas to both students and teachers at Saratoga.
Even The Falcon was accused of working with the administration to “rebut a claim of a ‘viral’ distribution,” when reporters wrote stories questioning the supposed viral distribution of the illicit photos.
Three Falcon staff members, junior Sabrina Chen and seniors Cristina Curcelli and Samuel Liu, were served subpoenas in August requesting information about two stories written last spring: one headlined, “Sources say ‘around 10’ students saw illicit photos of Pott,” and an editorial by Liu headlined, “Pott case twisted to fit anti-cyberbullying agenda.” 
Allard had said previously, in an apparent misinterpretation of the story, that he wished to speak to “the 10 students” that The Falcon spoke to that had seen the illicit photos. The reporters objected to the subpoenas on the basis of reporters’ privilege, and the subpoenas have since been withdrawn. 
BuzzFeed released an article concerning the successful claim to reporters’ privilege on Aug. 29. The case could have had severe implications for student journalism across the country, if the student reporters been deemed unable to use reporter shield laws.
In an email to The Falcon’s legal representation, Allard said, “Your clients know the identities of at least 10 students who received those photographs. We would like to believe that your clients were aiding our cause in unveiling cyberbullying … Continued resistance to this subpoena fosters cyberbullying.”
Lost in the torrent of lawsuits and vitriol is, perhaps, attempts at change on the Saratoga campus. Even the return of two of the charged students has not caused much of a stir on campus — unsettling, but nothing more than a day’s worth of gossip.
The suicide has been viewed as, more or less, an aberration, and many look to move on than dwell on the tragedy.
“Three people are responsible for the recent event that surfaced — no more, no less,” then-senior David Zarrin posted on his Facebook wall last spring, in a post that received upwards of 150 likes. “For those deriding the whole city of Saratoga, remember who is actually responsible … this community is no less amazing than it was before.”
And while those involved walk through the school halls again, it’s hard not to wonder whether or not anything has changed. Students talk, flirt, bully — recent election posters were found defaced — and bustle to scramble together Homecoming decorations. 
Change, wherever or whatever it is, has been hard to find. 
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