Attorneys surprised at attention given to BHS cheerleading case
December 15, 2008 · Updated 7:51 PM
Editor’s note: This is an expanded version of the story that ran last issue.
Early the week of Dec. 8, an attorney for the Northshore School District asked a federal district court to dismiss as “frivolous” the lawsuit filed over the district’s handling of an incident involving nude and semi-nude photos of two Bothell High cheerleaders.
The case has garnered national attention, but Northshore attorney Mike Patterson claims district officials did exactly what they should have done when the pictures surfaced.
“We acted appropriately once this came into our knowledge,” he said.
The pictures had reportedly circulated throughout Bothell High via cell phone beginning in August.
In one of the photos, one of the girls was topless. The second photo was apparently a nude shot of the second girl.
According to Patterson, school leaders became aware of the pictures when printed copies were left in a sealed envelope on an administrator’s desk. Patterson stated the pictures were shown to one other official and then turned over to local police. He said officials were unable to determine the source of the pictures given the administrator.
According to Patterson, district officials talked with both girls, wanting to know who, if anyone, had other copies of the pictures. He claimed they both refused to reveal any names. Patterson further said the district was unable to determine who exactly had copies of the pictures and how they came to be available for distribution.
Patterson added, in a general announcement to students, officials said it was inappropriate for anyone to possess the pictures and asked students with any information to come forward. He did not report that anyone had done so. Patterson said the names of the girls involved were left out of the announcement.
Following the district’s investigation, officials suspended both girls from the Bothell cheerleading squad, one for 30 days and one for the entire year. The suspensions were done, according to the district, in line with the Northshore’s behavioral codes.
Patterson added the stiffer sentence was given to the second girl because of previous infractions.
Matthew King, a Seattle attorney representing the families of both cheerleaders, alleges that among other things, the district violated both girls’ right to due process and shared the pictures unnecessarily with school officials. King said the shots should have been turned over to police the minute they came to light.
He added one of the girls’ mothers gave the pictures to Bothell police, who apparently conducted an investigation, but no charges were filed.
In his lawsuit, King also questions why students who allegedly had the pictures or possibly helped distribute them were not punished along with the girls.
The photos apparently were widely distributed among members of Bothell High’s football team.
King said he is not looking for damages beyond legal expenses, but is seeking to have both girls’ records expunged. While one girl has returned to the cheerleading squad after her 30-day suspension, the other girl also is seeking to be reinstated to the team.
King further stated he is seeking an apology from the district, though he doesn’t expect that ever will be forthcoming. He said he tried to settle with the district out of court, but claimed local officials were not willing to cooperate.
The case originally was filed in King County Superior Court in late November. Arguing the case involves at least one federal issue — namely due process — Patterson asked the case be removed to federal district court. No trial date has been set.
According to King, the district violated the girls’ rights to process in a number of ways.
For example, one picture was taken three years ago, apparently sent to the girl’s then-boyfriend. King said he doesn’t understand how his client can be held accountable by Bothell High for an incident that occurred before she even attended the school.
Both King and Patterson agree on one thing: they both are surprised by the amount of attention the case has received. Patterson said he was talking with national news media just prior to speaking with the Reporter.
“While I think it’s an interesting case, I don’t think it’s worthy of the attention it’s gotten,” King said.
He added the two girls have been largely insulated from the publicity, with all media attention directed at him and his office.
King added he believes the media focus should be on what happened after district officials discovered the pictures.