St. Paul’s responds to lawsuit, denies any liability in Labrie sex assault case

  • Owen Labrie is escorted out of the Merrimack County Superior Courtroom Monday, May 16, 2016, in Concord, N.H. after a judge agreed to new bail conditions. Labrie, a prep school graduate convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old freshman girl as part of a game of sexual conquest called Senior Salute, will again be free pending appeal and now required to use electronic monitoring via GPS.(AP Photo/Jim Cole, Pool)

  • Convicted St. Paul’s School graduate Owen Labrie appears in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, N.H., on Friday, March 18, 3016. Labrie’s bail was revoked. (Elizabeth Frantz/Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)

  • In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, Owen Labrie listens to prosecutors before being sentenced in Merrimack County’s superior court in Concord. JIM COLE / AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 8/9/2016 5:24:47 PM

St. Paul’s School in Concord said it could not have prevented the sexual assault of a 15-year-old freshman by senior Owen Labrie in May 2014.

Only the girl and Labrie know what happened between them that night, and both testified to different versions of events that transpired in a secluded room on the St. Paul’s campus, the school said Monday. The statement is part of a 64-page response to a civil lawsuit, which the girl’s family submitted pseudonymously against the school in U.S. District Court in June.

Labrie testified near the conclusion of his two-week trial in Merrimack County Superior Court that he and the girl had consensual sexual contact. The victim said she was raped as part of a school tradition known as the “senior salute.”

Labrie was convicted on three counts of statutory rape and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, all misdemeanors. The jury also found him guilty of prohibited use of a computer, a felony that requires lifelong registration as a sex offender.

Labrie was jailed for two months after a judge found he repeatedly violated the curfew included in his bail conditions. He was released from custody in May and is appealing his convictions.

After his release, the family of the former student filed the federal lawsuit demanding a jury trial in the civil case. They accuse the school of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and infliction of emotional distress, among other things. Damages exceed $75,000, according to the family.

In its response Monday, the school denied allegations that Labrie and other upperclassmen openly targeted freshman girls – including from a senior lounge in the dining hall – and competed in games of sexual conquest.

St. Paul’s defense is based heavily in semantics. For example, the school repeatedly states in its response there are multiple definitions for the now-infamous “senior salute,” as well as “scoring.” Further, the school says the word “underage” is too vague to describe the girls who upperclassmen purportedly singled out, as it could describe most of St. Paul’s students.

The school insists “the ‘senior salute’ is in no way a school-sanctioned or endorsed term or event. The school understands and believes that the phrase describes a wide range of behaviors related to students spending time with other students and means a variety of different things to different people and that there is no uniform or singular definition.”

However, it is the notion of the “senior salute,” a purported springtime tradition in which upperclassmen solicit intimate encounters from younger schoolmates, that brought the Labrie case and the school national attention.

The family of the former student maintains the institution failed her, and that by 2014 sexual predation at St. Paul’s had become so ingrained that administrators took no action to curtail it. Instead, the family argues, Labrie and other young men escalated the “senior salute” tradition as members of a secret club known as the “slaymakers.” The group of male seniors tracked sexual encounters and competed to break records, most notably in the weeks before graduation, which they coined “Slaypril.”

The school, though, strongly denies that a group of “slaymakers” was ever formalized or that it knew students had keys to several unauthorized locations on campus, including the mechanical room where the encounter with Labrie and his victim took place.

School officials acknowledge the existence of a storage shed nicknamed the “Mars Hotel,” but deny allegations that it’s lined with condoms and that a sofa was placed there for sex. In its response, St. Paul’s said the shed is used by the cross-country ski team and others to store ski equipment.

Because the conversations between Labrie and other upperclassmen took place in private social media and email accounts, the school denies any liability, saying it could not have known prior to the criminal investigation what was taking place. St. Paul’s said it doesn’t have the authority to access students’ Facebook accounts and does not monitor their emails.

But in the lawsuit, the girl’s family says the school missed an earlier warning about Labrie. The complaint says the school learned prior to the sexual assault charges that Labrie had been overly aggressive with another female student during an earlier sexual encounter, biting her and pulling her hair, but took no “significant action to investigate.”

The school, though, denies receiving any such report.

 

 

 

 

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)




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