SAMMAMISH, Wash. — Two lawyers who represent a group of Eastside Catholic High School football players accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in 2018 criticized recent media coverage of the case, arguing the press unfairly demonized the students and put their futures at risk.
The attorneys said the recent attention has unnecessarily jeopardized the athletes’ personal reputations and future educational opportunities, such as scholarship offers to play football at prestigious universities.
“Leave these young people alone and let them move on with their lives — all of them,” said Lara Hruska, a Seattle attorney who is representing some of the students in an ongoing public records lawsuit aimed at curbing further media attention. “People in the community have taken it upon themselves to try to derail their educational trajectories, and (they) won’t let this story go.”
The remarks come in response to the KING 5 series “Glory and Shame At Eastside Catholic” and subsequent stories from other media outlets. The reporting scrutinized a 2018 sexual encounter and a months-long criminal rape investigation involving four standout Eastside Catholic football players who were suspects, another star Eastside Catholic player who was a witness, and a second witness who was a football player from Lake Washington High School in Kirkland. The alleged victim was 16-years-old at the time and attended another school.
KING 5 is not identifying the individuals involved in the case because the players were never arrested or charged with a crime and the female is an alleged victim of sexual assault.
Five of the six boys involved in the April 2018 incident later landed college football scholarships, but two of them have since lost their offers. One of the Eastside Catholic students, a witness to the alleged rape, lost his football scholarship last week and the prestigious university also revoked his admission. The oldest suspect, who graduated from Eastside Catholic in 2018, lost his chance to play football on a college scholarship at the time because the university wouldn’t allow him to join the team while the police investigation was active, according to a different attorney on the case.
“These boys were experiencing their own trauma. They, too, have been in counseling because of all of this,” said Emily Gause, a criminal defense attorney who represents one of the Eastside Catholic teens. “The boys are 100 percent innocent and we believe all of the evidence supports it.”
This is the first time attorneys for the private school athletes have responded to questions or granted an interview about the case that cast a shadow over the six players and resulted in the alleged victim dropping out of her high school and being hospitalized, according to her written statement submitted as part of the public records lawsuit.
“This is not a newsworthy story in the first place, and we shouldn't have to be here discussing it,” Hruska said.
Hruska, on behalf of her clients, is now attempting to block The Seattle Times from obtaining the same 521-page investigative file already released to KING 5 in December, 2018. KING 5 did not do a story when it first received the records because advocates for the alleged victim advised coverage at the time would further harm her.
KING 5 is not a party in the lawsuit.
‘It’s Not Our Business To Judge’
It’s undisputed, based on a KING 5 review of hundreds of pages of law enforcement records, that the four high school football stars took turns having sex with the girl in the open-air bed of a pickup truck as it drove through the wealthy Bellevue suburbs of Hunts Point, Yarrow Point and Medina on Friday, April 20, 2018.
Two other football players, including another Eastside Catholic student and a Lake Washington student, watched from inside the cab. At least one player in the truck took videos of the events that night and sent them out over the popular app, Snapchat, according to the police records and KING 5 interviews with students who said they received and watched the video clips.
Records show the alleged victim and the football players do not agree on whether or not the sexual acts that night were consensual. Under Washington state law, consent means that at the time of a sexual encounter, there must be "actual words or conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual conduct."
The female told police she was drunk and intimated when the four football players took turns having sex with her. She said the sex was not consensual, and she froze because she was afraid.
The players denied allegations that they sexually assaulted the female. Law enforcement records reveal the four male suspects did not agree to police interviews nor did they provide statements at the time of the investigation. Fifteen months after the prosecutor’s office declined to file charges, the suspects stated in court records that “no crime was committed.”
The alleged victim, now 18, wrote in a court declaration last month that she was telling the truth when she made the report of sexual assault in 2018, and she’s fed up with being called a liar. Through her attorney, the female declined an interview request.
“She said everything she intends to say in her declaration,” said Abby St. Hilaire, the Seattle-based attorney who represents the alleged victim.
After a five-month police investigation led by the Clyde Hill Police Department, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office declined to file any charges.
The star athletes remained on Eastside Catholic’s powerhouse football team during and after the criminal investigation, helping the team win two more Washington state 3A championship titles in 2018 and last year. Two of the Eastside Catholic students who were suspects and one who was a witness are seniors this year. They still attend the private, faith-based Sammamish school.
Hruska and Gause said the sexual encounter, which happened while the teens drove through public streets, was a “private moment” between consenting teenagers.
“My primary concern is: ‘Is it consensual? Is it respectful at the time?’ Hruska said. “My understanding is that these young people made a decision about what to do with their bodies and that it’s not our business to judge. I have no interest in purity tests for teenagers.”
The attorneys said their clients are wrongfully being “labeled as rapists” for allegations that never resulted in criminal charges.
“All of the evidence supports consent so we believe the truth needs to come out,” Gause said. “It’s perhaps one of the most damaging labels that anyone can face but especially a juvenile boy who’s about to start his adult life.”
Evidence Paints Inconsistent Picture
Not all of the evidence supports the football players' assertions that the girl consented to the sexual activities.
The police file contains many conflicting accounts of what happened that night, and that’s why King County prosecutors said they declined to file criminal charges against the athletes. They did not have a “good faith belief” that the evidence was strong enough to lead to a conviction.
WATCH: Prosecuting attorney explains why players weren't charged
The alleged victim, according to records, was consistent in her account of what happened that night in multiple interviews with law enforcement officials. She repeatedly expressed that she did not consent to sex and she froze in the moment while being tossed around the bed of the truck.
She told a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) that one of the football players pulled her hair back and it hurt her neck.
“I told him not to but he didn’t stop,” she told the SANE nurse. “My neck was pulled all the way back and it was hard to breathe and speak and I felt as if I was being lifted off the ground by my hair.”
In a May 2018 interview with a Clyde Hill detective and the lead prosecutor on the case, the girl said the players forcibly pushed her to the bottom of the truck bed when cars passed by. In the same interview, she stated “it didn’t really seem real,” adding that she couldn’t talk or pull away because as she tried to stand up, the players pushed her back down.
“I was really scared and I felt that like if I didn’t listen to them they were going to do something,” the girl said to the prosecutor.
She was also consistent in her statements to law enforcement that because she felt intimidated, she never told the boys to stop the sexual activity.
“..the way I was acting...I didn’t seem like I wasn’t okay,” she told the detective. “When I get nervous or, like in uncomfortable situations, like, that’s not really normal I guess to what people would think of.”
Attorneys argue that's exactly why their clients believe the encounter was consensual.
"Her own words describing her actions and her behavior to police demonstrate she consented to the acts," Gause said. "She agreed with words and actions. She sought the activity."
Was the alleged victim drunk?
Police records show dozens of differing statements about whether or not the girl was intoxicated and in a state of mind to consent to sexual relations. There is no indication in police records that any of the boys involved drank alcohol that night.
Six days after the incident, the girl reported to a SANE nurse at Evergreen Hospital that she’d consumed five to seven shots of whiskey with two students before meeting up with the football players.
“I was pretty drunk,” she said to the nurse.
The alleged victim told police and prosecutors she was too inebriated to consent.
“I wouldn’t have done any of that sober,” she said in an interview with a King County prosecuting attorney.
A close friend of the alleged victim, who said she saw the girl right after the events in the truck, told police it was obvious she was under the influence and “pretty out of it.”
“I could notice that she was drunk, that she was kind of saying like, ‘No, like I’m fine, like I’m not that drunk,’ but I knew she was,” the friend said.
A schoolmate of the alleged victim told police she’d seen a video of the incident via Snapchat. She said she could see the alleged victim having sex in the bed of the moving truck and heard her say on the tape that she was fine, but she appeared obviously intoxicated.
Football players in the truck and other witnesses told police the girl appeared sober.
“If she did drink, which we don’t accept as a truth, she did so on her own, never with the boys, and they had no idea she had anything to drink,” Gause, the attorney, said. “She told investigators that they wouldn’t be able to tell because she acts the same when she’s sober and when she’s drunk.”
A male teenager told police he drank a small amount of alcohol with the alleged victim before she met up with the football players. He reported she had “four little shots” of whiskey, a little bit of Baileys (Irish) Cream and that she was not altered.
Soon after the night in question, the same boy gave conflicting accounts of the girl’s sobriety in Snapchat messages.
“(I don’t care) if you were drunk. U (messed) up (that night),” the boy wrote to the alleged victim.
“She drank all my alcohol,” the boy wrote to the girl’s friend in a Snapchat exchange. “I don’t give a (expletive) that she was intoxicated.”
The girl’s mother told police her daughter said she was “fine” when she picked her up at a friend’s house after the incident and that she didn’t “smell any alcohol” on her daughter's breath.
An Uber driver who gave the girl a ride from Hunts Point where the players dropped her off told police in a June 2018 interview that she “seemed fine” and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Friends Describe Girl's Behavior
Police records reveal some students told authorities the alleged victim described the events in a positive light right after the incident and in the first few days that followed, in contrast to her statements to law enforcement.
A student who hung out with alleged victim that night told police the girl “stated multiple times” she “wanted to have sex” with more than one boy. Another friend stated when the girl returned from the encounter with the players, she appeared “happy” about what happened and “not distraught,” according to the investigation file.
One of the alleged victim’s friends stated that the girl boasted about what happened that night, according to a statement she provided to police through her attorneys.
“(She) was talking about it a lot at school; she was bragging and showing people photos from the night,” the girl told the attorneys.
Another student, who doesn't know the victim, told police he watched several Snapchat videos of the incident while attending a lacrosse game and “it looked very bad.” The student described scenes, according to police records, where the players traded a girl around. He said the person videotaping the incident asked the girl if she was okay and she replied, “yes.”
Despite obtaining a search warrant, detectives were never able to recover the videos from that night because they said the app automatically deleted them. Hruska said no police records indicate that the videos exist.
Not All Sexual Assault Survivors The Same
The athletes’ attorneys said the alleged victim’s actions before, during and after the incident show she was a willing participant in the encounter. But advocates for victims say there’s no one-size-fits-all reaction or response to a sexual assault.
It’s common, advocates say, for victims not to fight back or to freeze in the middle of the sexual assault.
“Survivors face enormous barriers to healing and justice built on a foundation of long-held, outdated notions about how victims should react, both during and following an assault,” said Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.
Sexual assault experts say it’s not unusual for victims to forget all or parts of a sexual assault because of the way trauma effects a person’s brain chemistry. Experts said it explains why some victims may also recount the assault differently at different times.
“We need to get better at believing victims and being able to hold in our heads the idea that people can be both good in some aspects of their lives and also capable of committing a sexual assault,” said Stone, who did not comment on the specific case involving the Eastside Catholic teens.
Stone said misguided notions of "a perfect victim" persists in our criminal justice system and in our society’s everyday reaction to sexual assault.
That’s the reason why the majority of sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement, too few perpetrators are held accountable and too few victims get the resources they need to heal, Stone said.
Attorneys Blame Racism For Community Response
While three of the Eastside Catholic students involved in the April 2018 incident still have their football scholarships intact, their attorneys are fighting to make sure it stays that way.
The athletes’ lawyers said parents from Eastside Catholic and other schools with no connection to the case have listened to “gossip” and then worked to sabotage the boys’ college football scholarships by calling and sending letters to the universities.
Hruska said racism is to blame for the community’s response to “rumors” surrounding that Friday night. Three of the four players who were accused of sexual assault are African American.
“It appears that the community — largely affluent, largely white — cannot believe that these young men of color did not commit a crime,” Hruska said.
Hruska said the universities that may be considering rescinding the boys’ offers should consider the circumstances surrounding the situation.
“I would ask, ‘Do you subject all of your enrolled students to the same kind of retroactive purity tests? Or do you just reserve this for those being retaliated against in the media?'” she said.
KING 5 investigative reporter Taylor Mirfendereski contributed to this story.
If you or someone you know is the victim of a sexual assault, help is available. We’ve compiled a list of some Washington state resources and information on how to report a sex crime in your area.
To talk to someone immediately from the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, call the 24-hour resource line at 888-998-6423.