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Why prosecutors didn’t charge four Eastside Catholic football players accused of 2018 rape

A prosecutor on a sexual assault case involving four Eastside Catholic football players said they didn't have a “good faith belief” they could get a conviction.

Four Eastside Catholic High School football players accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in April 2018 faced no criminal charges after the incident. Prosecutors said they received too much conflicting information about what happened that night. 

Police officials, sexual assault advocates and the lead King County prosecutor on the teenagers’ case said whenever prosecutors decline to file charges in sexual assault cases, it does not mean that no crime occurred.

“The decision had nothing to do with believing or not believing a victim,” said Emily Petersen, the King County prosecuting attorney who led the case. “It had to do with the available evidence that would be presented in court, and we did not have a good faith belief that the evidence would result in the conviction of a crime.”

It’s undisputed, based on a KING 5 review of hundreds of pages of law enforcement records, that 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 and Medina. 

Two other teenagers, including another Eastside Catholic standout player, watched from inside the cab, according to investigative files. At least one player took video of the events that night and sent them out over the popular app, Snapchat, according to police records and KING 5 interviews with students who said they received and watched the video clips. 

Since no criminal charges were filed in the case, KING 5 is not identifying any of the six male students involved in the April 2018 incident. The female is not identified because she is an alleged victim of sexual assault.

RELATED: Four Eastside Catholic H.S. football players suspected of sexual assault in 2018; none charged with a crime

The alleged victim, who attended another school at the time, told Clyde Hill police that she was drunk that Friday night and that she did not consent to sexual relations in the bed of the truck. Her account of what happened propelled a five-month police investigation that involved seven law enforcement agencies and interviews with more than a dozen witnesses. 

“We took (the case) very seriously,” said Kyle Kolling, chief of police at the Clyde Hill Police Department, the lead agency on the case.  

The two teenagers, who told detectives they observed the sex acts from the cab of the pickup, shared a different version of the story, investigative records show. They said the female was “the initiator,” and that everything that happened was consensual. 

Law enforcement records reveal the four male suspects, who remained on Eastside Catholic’s powerhouse football team during and after the investigation, did not agree to police interviews. The alleged victim, suspects and witnesses involved in the 2018 incident declined to be interviewed for this story.

Eastside Catholic, founded in 1980, is a private faith-based school in Sammamish. Approximately 850 middle and high school students attend the school, according to the school’s website. 

‘The officer put together an incredible case’

In September 2018, Clyde Hill police completed their investigation and sent their findings to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for a filing decision. Police recommended that the 18-year-old suspect, the only adult involved, should be charged with rape of a child in the third degree. They recommended that prosecutors consider sexual assault charges for the three minor suspects, records show.  Law enforcement offered the two witnesses limited immunity in exchange for their cooperation.   

Petersen, the prosecuting attorney who specializes in sexual assault, said this was one of the most “alarming” cases involving juveniles to ever cross her desk. 

“I think it’s the number of participants (who) participated in the alleged assault. I think that is what is alarming,” she said. “We don’t see that often involving juvenile suspects or even adult suspects.”

Three months after finalizing the investigation, in December 2018, King County prosecutor’s office officials announced they would not file criminal charges against the four teens.

“I believe that the officer put together an incredible case,” said Lt. Dawn Hanson, who oversaw the Clyde Hill Police Department’s investigation. “Unfortunately, it stopped at the prosecutor’s office and that can be frustrating.”

Case doesn’t stick due to conflicting accounts

Petersen said the alleged victim was cooperative every step of the way. 

“She did not hold back information that may have been embarrassing to her,” Petersen said. “I think it took a tremendous amount of courage for her to report this — at great expense to her and her family, and I certainly believe that she was as honest as she could be with us.” 

Petersen said prosecutors declined to file charges against the private school students because there were too many different versions of what happened that night and not enough tangible evidence for prosecutors to be successful with a conviction in court.

“We are ethically bound — no matter how outraged we may be by the behavior or how much sympathy we have for a young person who comes forward and reports. We are ethically bound to not charge cases that are not supported by evidence,” Petersen said.

“I do believe that she told her truth as she remembers it, as she felt it and as she perceived it after the incident,” Petersen said.

Despite obtaining a search warrant, detectives were never able to recover the videos that at least one player sent to other students on Snapchat. Both police and Petersen said having access to the video would have been beneficial to the investigation.

“It certainly would have added some clarity to the many different versions from many different people about what occurred that night,” Petersen said.  

Examples of discrepancies

The alleged victim told police she was drunk and that she “wasn’t in the condition to give consent.” But a player in the pickup truck told police that was “a lie,” and that she wasn’t drunk, according to police records.  

A female friend who spent time with the girl at a friend’s house before meeting up with the football players told police the alleged victim “had approximately two shots” of whiskey and that “she was perfectly fine” when she left to hang out with the boys.

The alleged victim told detectives the sex was “not consensual,” adding that the boys had “an unsaid authority over me.” She also told police she froze up during the incident and didn’t protest.

“I was really scared, and I felt that if I didn’t listen to them they were going to do something,” the alleged victim said to police, according to the investigation file. 

But the same friend who spent time with the girl before the incident told law enforcement that when she communicated with the female after the alleged rape, she only “said positive things about what happened.” 

A male friend, who had dinner with the female earlier in the night, informed detectives in a May 2018 statement that the alleged victim said she was eager to connect with one of the football players that night. 

“She told everyone she was going to leave and ‘have sex with this guy,’” the friend, who went to school with the alleged victim, wrote in his statement. 

According to records, the male also said she “was talking about it a lot at school and was bragging” about the night.

“It’s not our job to determine whether or not something bad happened. We know in this case that something happened that this young woman was not okay with. Something that was very detrimental to her happened,” Petersen said. “But that is not enough for us to determine that there is sufficient evidence to charge somebody with a crime.”

Fabrication ‘rare’ for sex crime victims 

Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, said it’s rare for victims of sex crimes to fabricate their stories. 

“That’s part of the whole victim blaming atmosphere that exists. It’s easy to dismiss these reports by saying, ‘That never really happened. Somebody’s making it up.’ But we don’t see that happening,” she said.

Like criminal justice experts, Stone said it’s important to remember that when there are no charges in a sexual assault case, it doesn’t automatically mean no crime occurred. 

“That’s one particular standard that people hold. (They say) if he wasn’t or she wasn’t charged, if they weren’t found guilty, then that means it didn’t happen. That’s not true at all,” she said. 

The Eastside Catholic players remained on the team after the April 2018 incident. They went on to win two state championship titles in 2018 and 2019. The three males who still attend the school obtained scholarships to play football at prestigious universities.

One of the witnesses in the case received a football scholarship from Stanford University. He was set to attend the school and play this fall, but the university rescinded its scholarship offer and revoked his admission status this week. 

Petersen said the prosecutor’s office did not give the suspects preferential treatment because of their star status on the prominent high school team.

“It would be unethical of us to treat these young men differently because they were football players,” she said. “We are required to treat people fairly whether they are a suspect or whether they are a victim. That is what we did in this case.” 

The alleged victim, now 18, wrote that her life fell apart after that night two years ago. She detailed her experience in a declaration submitted to a King County court last month, revealing she was partially hospitalized for “a period of months,” diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and that she had dropped out of her high school.

The girl submitted the declaration after The Seattle Times and a California newspaper requested public records related to the case earlier this year. She wrote she wasn’t seeking media attention, but she supported news outlets investigating why the prosecutor’s office didn’t file charges.

“I don’t like the idea of anyone reading the details contained in the records, but I support an effort to review and provide accountability for the decision of the prosecutor’s office in my case,” the alleged victim wrote.  

The four football players who were under investigation also filed declarations in court last month in an effort to block release of the records. They stated “no crime was committed.” In a statement, an attorney for one of the suspects commended the prosecutor for making the “correct and just decision.” 

Eastside Catholic declined an interview request, explaining in a statement that they left the investigation up to police and prosecutors because they didn’t have evidence of their own. 

The Clyde Hill Police Department officials who worked on the case said they understand there are many reasons why a case doesn’t get prosecuted. The statute of limitations hasn’t expired, but Petersen said the King County prosecutor’s office stands by its decision. 

“I don’t want somebody sitting at home to (see) this story and think, ‘What’s the point (of reporting)? People are just going to get off,’” Petersen said. “Even though it did not result in criminal charges, it was still taken seriously. It was not brushed under the rug. It was not swept under the carpet by the police or the prosecutor’s office.”

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.